Stage Review: Avenue Q
by Jeff Ritter
Published: May 2, 2010
Any visit to the Fabulous Fox Theatre on Grand Avenue in St. Louis is a welcome one. I could sit in any seat in the house for hours without stage production whatsoever, just taking in every minute detail of the Fox's amazing architecture. They don't make them like this anymore.
I think that's what makes "Avenue Q" so affecting when it comes to our fair town. The Fox has a long and rich history since it opened as a silent picture house in 1929. You feel it when you walk in the door, like stepping into a cathedral to performing arts. Everyone comes a bit better dressed, a bit more refined, and a bit more respectful than the average moviegoer who can't seem to leave their cell phones alone for ten minutes.
And then the lights dim, the music swells and Brian walks on stage through the door of his New York outer boroughs tenement house set piece. He's clad in a bright green bowling shirt, clashing orange shorts, and red high-tops. In short, he looks like me away from the Fox.
Now this wasn't my first stroll down the avenue -- I saw "Avenue Q" a year or two ago when they last came to town. One of the joys of seeing it a second time (or even twenty-second, I'm sure) is seeing and hearing the reaction of the audience. You could tell as folks were filing in that a lot of them had no idea what to expect. When Brian gets the ball rolling on the song, "It Sucks To Be Me," you can hear the nervous chuckles turn to earnest laughter. The irony of seeing such an irreverent production in such a classy venue only adds to the entertainment.
Brian (Tim Kornblum), an unemployed thirty-something with dreams of being a late night TV comic, is just one of several interesting people living on Avenue Q. His fiance, Christmas Eve (Lisa Helmi Johanson), is a highly educated Japanese woman with no clients to help her launch her career. Kate Monster (Jacqueline Grabois) lives next door, and as the name implies she's a cute, cuddly, furry-faced monster puppet. Readers new to "Avenue Q," yes, you read that right: puppet. And she's not the only one as the show's "odd couple" Nicky (Michael Liscio, Jr.) and Rod (Brent Michael DiRoma) live next to her. Nicky is the sloppy but affable Ernie to Rod's white-collar Republican Bert. The last tenement houses Trekkie Monster (Michael again), who looks a bit like a shaggy Fozzie Bear with horns but sounds more like the Cookie Monster. He lives above the new kid on the block, Princeton (Brent again),
who shows up singing a song asking that age old question, "What Do You Do With A BA In English?" Last but not least, the super shows up in the form of one-time child star Gary Coleman (Nigel Jamaal Clark). The only non-puppet parts are Brian, Christmas and Gary, though the human actors playing each (and sometimes multiple) puppets are always visible on stage. I should also mention the Bad Idea Bears, a pair of teddy bear puppets that function as a sort of two-headed devil on Princeton's shoulder. The bears are played by the industrious multitaskers Michael Liscio, Jr. and Kerri Brackin, who operates several puppets throughout the performance.
AVENUE Q National Tour 2009
National Tour Cast
© John Daughtry 2009
The first act is an absolute scream, with songs like "If You Were Gay," "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," and "The Internet Is For Porn." Princeton begins his search for a purpose and soon finds himself involved romantically with Kate Monster. As Brian and Christmas approach their wedding, a secret Rod has been keeping begins to drive a wedge into his friendship with Nicky. Trekkie and Gary Coleman keep things light and lively, and the Bad Idea Bears just stir the pot.
After the intermission, things get a bit more serious as Princeton realizes his quest to find himself has become horribly derailed. Kate's life path isn't fairing much better. Nicky and Rod have a major falling out at their neighbor's wedding, and while there are still many funny moments including Lucy the Slut, another puppet character played by Jacqueline Grabois, narrowly escaping death when "some idiot threw a penny off the Empire State Building." As you might expect, everything turns out OK in the end.
"Avenue Q," created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and directed here by Jason Moore, is a brilliant homage to children's television, incorporating themes of self discovery, careers and love into a package as familiar as Sesame Street and The Electric Company. That last one might only be familiar to people over 35, but trust me, Lopez and Marx drew some inspiration from the show that launched Morgan Freeman. Jason Moore does a great job with a wonderful cast. Even though the show is mostly about Princeton and Kate, the ensemble is so strong that nobody feels marginalized. I thought Michael Liscio, Jr. in particular did a standout job, especially since his characters have such a wide range of voices. Jacqueline Grabois did a nice job with both Kate Monster and Lucy, but she seemed a little stiff with her puppetry tonight. There were times when Jacqueline's mouth was open wide in song but Kate's lips were barely parted. Oddly, she seemed to do fine with the puppetry when speaking, it was just when she sang that I noticed Kate being tight-lipped. Brent Michael DiRoma was fine as Princeton but really shined as Rod.
AVENUE Q National Tour 2009
Lucy The Slut, Jacqueline Grabois
© John Daughtry 2009
The short run at the Fabulous Fox, April 30- May 2, is the only real disappointment. I can't imagine this show having any difficulty selling out for a week or even longer engagements. Just remember, if anyone asks you what it's about, don't just tell them it's Sesame Street for adults. Tell them the truth: it's a touching story of idealistic youth facing the trials and tribulations of life and love in the big city... and full-on simulated puppet sex.
- Act 1
- "The Avenue Q Theme" - Company
- "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?" - Princeton
- "It Sucks to Be Me" - Brian, Kate Monster, Rod, Nicky, Christmas Eve, Gary Coleman, and Princeton
- "If You Were Gay" - Nicky and Rod
- "Purpose" - Princeton and Company
- "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" - Princeton, Kate, Gary, Brian, and Christmas Eve
- "The Internet Is for Porn" - Kate, Trekkie Monster, Brian, Gary Coleman, Rod, and Princeton
- "Mix Tape" - Kate and Princeton
- "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today" - Brian
- "Special" - Lucy the Slut
- "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)" - Gary, The Bad Idea Bears, Princeton, Kate, and Company
- "Fantasies Come True" - Rod, Kate, Nicky and Princeton
- "My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada" - Rod
- "There's a Fine, Fine Line" - Kate
- Act II
- "There Is Life Outside Your Apartment" - Brian, Princeton, Christmas Eve, Gary, Nicky, Trekkie Monster, Lucy, and Company
- "The More You Ruv Someone" - Christmas Eve and Kate
- "Schadenfreude" - Gary and Nicky
- "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" - Kate, Nicky and Princeton
- "The Money Song" - Nicky, Princeton, Gary, Brian and Christmas Eve
- "School for Monsters" - Trekkie Monster and Company
- "The Money Song (Reprise)" - Nicky, Princeton, Gary, Brian and Christmas Eve
- "There's a Fine, Fine Line (Reprise)" - Princeton and Kate
- "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English? (Reprise)" - Newcomer
- "For Now" - Kate, Brian, Gary, Nicky, Rod, Christmas Eve, Trekkie Monster, Lucy, The Bad Idea Bears, Princeton and Company