“Avenue Q” at Playhouse on Park Reminds Us of Starting Out

avenue q 4

The cast of Avenue Q

By Karen Isaacs

 Avenue Q was a surprise Broadway hit and Tony winner for Best Musical. Why? This small show had originated off-Broadway and featured actors holding puppets who were many of the show’s characters.

While it tells a universal story about young adults struggling to get started in careers in the Big Apple, it also had a modern 21st century attitude.

Part romance, there is a heavy dose of satire and humor in the show, now at Playhouse on Park in West Harford, through Oct. 8.

While not my favorite show, director/choreographer Kyle Brand and a talented cast are presenting a very good rendition of the show.

It is set on Avenue Q in New York City, which its residents describe as the place where those who cannot afford living on Avenue A, B, C or D (all streets on lower east side of the city) go.

Into the neighborhood wonders Princeton a recent college graduate wondering what he can do with his BA in English. He quickly meets the other residents – all of whom seem to feel as though their lives are less than perfect. Kate Monster is a kindergarten teaching assistant, Brian aspires to be a comic, his girlfriend Christmas Eve is a therapist without clients and the buildings are presided over by Gary Coleman, the former child star.

It’s a diverse group and each has his or her problems. During the course of the two hour show, the characters discover things about themselves and form a variety of relationships. Princeton and Kate fall in love, break up and get back together again, Brian and Christmas Eve marry, Rod, the most successful of the group, acknowledges his sexuality. Nothing all that unusual.

But the music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who originally conceived the piece as a TV series, veer from the expected to more social commentary.

Many young adults – and some older ones – have thought what the songs express. Princeton wonders “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English) while the entire cast tries to on-up each other in “It Sucks to Be Me.”

Weston Chandler Long, Peej Mele and Ashley Brooke are the three cast members who manipulate and voice the puppets; each plays at least two roles. They are all so skillful that you believe the puppets are actually talking and emoting. Yet if you look at the performers, you see that they are truly acting with their faces and gestures matching what the puppets are saying.

All three of these young performers deserve to get their Equity cards (membership).

James Fairchild, EJ Zimmerman and Abena Mensah-Bonsu are the three characters who are NOT puppets. Fairchild is Brian, who wants to be a comedian; Zimmerman is Christmas Eve, his girlfriend and a therapist; while Mensah-Bonsu plays Gary Coleman. Each is very good.

The entire cast is backed by a 5-piece band.

I was initially concerned how director/choreographer Kyle Brand would use the large, thrust stage which has the audience on three sides. But he is extremely effective in his staging. The performers move deftly so that all the audience can see and hear. Yet the pacing seems a bit slow; my attention began to wander.

Anyone who is just starting his or her career, or remembers what it was like will enjoy this production of Avenue Q.

 It runs through Oct. 8 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd., West Hartford. For tickets visit PlayhouseOnPark.org or call 860-523-5900 ext. 10.

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Weston Chandler Long, Peej Mele and Colleen Welsh

 

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