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October 2, 2012 > Theatre Review: Avenue Q takes up residence in Newark

Theatre Review: Avenue Q takes up residence in Newark

By Janet Grant

Yes, "Avenue Q" is a Tony winning musical in two acts; music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty.

Yes, "Avenue Q" is a coming-of-age parable addressing the stresses of entering adulthood.

Yes, "Avenue Q" uses puppets along with its human actors.

Yes, but "Avenue Q" is so much more...

First of all, "Avenue Q" is not for everyone and especially not for children. Its use of occasional foul language, wild puppet sex on stage, and the embracing of controversial topics such as racism, pornography and homosexuality make it a musical best suited for a more open-minded audience.

Now with that said, Stage 1 Theatre's production of "Avenue Q," superbly directed by Troy Johnson, was jaw-dropping, raucous, and hilarious entertainment from start to finish! Who knew puppets could be so insightful, aimless, sensitive, crass, and well, human?

"Avenue Q" has been frequently described as an adult version of PBS's "Sesame Street." It certainly has the look and feel of that childhood favorite. In my mind it is like "Sesame Street" moved to "South Park." It is a mix of humans, puppet humans, and puppet monsters living in a grubby neighborhood on the outskirts of New York City. And it is an educational treatise on the often tricky road of modern adult living and that scary transition into adulthood. And of course along with the lessons portrayed via the stage and with video bits on a large TV monitor, the gang often bursts out with some pretty catchy tunes!

The show begins when Princeton, a new graduate with a useless B.A. in English comes to Avenue Q looking for a cheap apartment. There he discovers a motley group of residents pretty much living on the fringe of society. He meets former child star Gary Coleman, who has had to deal with his sad state of affairs after his parents spent all his money. Roommates Nicky and Rod are friends but Nicky feels Rod would be happier if he just came out of the closet. Brian is a sloppy, stand-up comic wannabe living with Christmas Eve, his ascorbic-witted Asian fiancee. And of course there's Kate Monster, who just may be Princeton's dream girl.

The level of acting in this Stage 1 production was first rate. It is extremely difficult to maneuver puppets onstage and have the audience suspend belief that there are humans there too. But it was done and done well. There were also actors who played multiple puppets, and transitions between characters were managed seamlessly.

John Eubank played Princeton with just the right amount of sweetness and sensitivity. His portrayal of Rod with his sexual doubts and insecurities was equally fine and Rod's "My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada," was absolutely hilarious and one of my favorites.

Jessica Afonso was amazing as sweet, determined, lonely Kate Monster. Her lovely and expressive voice was especially effective and very poignant in "There's a Fine, Fine Line."

Mia Sagan was utterly believable as Gary Coleman and she did an admirable job explaining how great it feels to watch someone suffer in, "Schadenfreude."

Mark Helton as lovable slacker Brian and Ji Kim-Fung as his strong-willed fiancˇe Christmas Eve were wonderful playing off each other. Their struggling relationship was very genuine as that inter-racial couple who believes that "Everyone's a Little Bit racist."

Lucy the Slut was hilariously played by Katherine Cooper. Her portrayal was very Mae West, Miss Piggy-esque and made me laugh every time she gyrated her chest around and flounced around the stage to a jazzy drum beat.

Pasha Croes (with Michelle Piasecki) portrayed the affable but lazy Nicky just right. And his song "If You Were Gay," was a crowd favorite. Equally, Croes and Piasecki's performance of the cute Bad Idea Bears brought the house down with their gleeful scheming and mayhem.

And of course Scott Hall (with Michael Man) as the reclusive Trekkie Monster was such a wonderful mix of the Cookie Monster gone pervert. His obsession was another crowd favorite in "The Internet is for Porn."

"Sesame Street" it is not. But "Avenue Q" does offer honest and practical information about living in the real world. And it does so in a surprisingly upbeat, optimistic way and weirdly funny way.

"There's a Fine, Fine line" between good theater, and bad, and Stage 1 definitely delivered good and fun musical theater. And although "Avenue Q" may not be for everyone, Stage 1's production is certainly Community Theater at its best.

"Avenue Q"
Performance dates:
September 28 - October 13
Performances begin at 8:00 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.

Newark Memorial High School Theater
39375 Cedar Boulevard, Newark

Reserved seating prices are:
$22 General Admissions, $20 for Senior and Advance Purchase, $10 for Student (17 and under), and $18 for Groups of 12+ (for some performances).

Tickets are available online at www.stage1theatre.org.

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