Community Players Relocates to Avenue Q
by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder
Remember how Sesame Street entertained us while introducing us to the alphabet and numbers? Remember how the actors and Jim Henson’s immortal puppets also taught us about diversity and tolerance? Have you ever wished that PBS had other shows that could orient us to other parts of our life? Our first apartments? Our first jobs? Our first adult relationships? Well, that’s the idea behind the first musical of Community Players’ new season: Avenue Q.
Set on a rather seedy street in Manhattan, populated by a combination of human beings and puppets, Avenue Q follows a young man named Princeton as he makes the transition from college life to real life. His friends and neighbors give him lessons in life and love, many of them—”Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” or “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)”—topics Sesame Street forgot to cover.
Avenue Q has a book by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. Backstage gossip suggested that the three fought during the creative process, but presumably success heals all wounds. (Lopez has since gone on to write the music for The Book of Mormon and Frozen, so no worries for him on the financial front.) The puppets were designed by Rick Lyons, a veteran of the Henson Company and a member of the original cast. Although Sesame Street and the Hensons have never officially acknowledged the show, during the Broadway previews they sent some back-channel requests for a few adjustments in the puppets’ designs to make them more distinct from their models.
The musical opened at the Off-Broadway Vineyard Theater in 2003, and then, after ecstatic reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere, moved to Broadway’s John Golden Theater later that year. After a run of 2,534 performances, the show closed but almost immediately re-opened Off-Broadway again at the New World Stages, where it continues to run to this day. In a stunning upset, Avenue Q won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical, beating out the heavy favorite, Wicked (whose business doesn’t seem to have been hurt too much).
Our production is led by Aaron Wiessing as recent college graduate, Princeton, and newcomer Erin Box as his love interest, Kate Monster. Wiessing and Box give strong, musically rich performances. They are supported by seven other actors/puppeteers: Alex Knightwright as Nicky, Jacob Deters as Rod, Chris Terven as Trekkie Monster, Aimee Kerber as Lucy, Missy Freese as Female Bad Idea Bear, newcomer Ken Sprouls as Male Bad Idea Bear, and Larissa Lindahl as Mrs. T (no relation to Mr. T). Playing “real” people in this production are Nick Benson as Brian, Rosie Hauck as Christmas Eve, and Latrisha Green as Gary Coleman (yes, the Gary Coleman). It is a top-to-bottom musically talented ensemble, fun to watch and a joy to listen to.
The cast performs on Avenue Q, which Scenic Designer Jeremy Stiller has created to look reminiscent of a certain street one might see on children’s public television. Director Brett Cottone and Choregrapher Wendy Baugh use the space creatively. As one can imagine, stage movement can become problematic when performers must carry fairly large-sized puppets (sometimes two puppeteers per puppet!), paying attention to the puppets’ movements as well as their own. Ms. Baugh therefore keeps the choregraphy somewhat simple, but it serves the musical numbers well and is well-polished.
Additional creative staff include Kristi Zimmerman as Producer, Tony Smith as Assistant Director, Rusty Russell as Music Director, Tony Meizelis as Lighting Designer, Eli Mundy as Sound Designer, Jen Maloy as Costume Designer, Theresa Kerber as Properties Designer, and Judy Stroh as Stage Manager. Wendi Ayers is House Manager. The puppets are rented from the Swazzle Company of Glendale, California.
Our advertisements for Avenue Q boldy state “For Mature Audiences Only.” Indeed! There is much to find offensive in Avenue Q, including occasional profanity, adult humor and even some onstage puppet whoopie-making. You can get the idea of the humor from such musical numbers as “The Internet Is for Porn,” and “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love).” Yes, there are puppets, but this ain’t no children’s puppet show! Keep the kiddies home for this one. That said, Avenue Q is one hilarious, wonderfully-performed production.
The pay-what-you-can preview performance is Thursday, November 3 with regular performances November 4-6, 11-13 and 18-20. Please note that apart from the preview performance; there are no Thursday performances for Avenue Q. Thanks!
Photos by John Lieder