By Lynn Geyer
Pierce College’s Theatre Studio 320 is the sight of one of the funniest, irreverent musical events in recent years – “Avenue Q.”
Funny, because Director Fred Metzger pulls out all the stops to make this musical go for the gold.
Irreverent because Composer Robert Lopez and Lyricist Jeff Marx took Jeff Whitty’s book and made beloved doppelgangers of those fuzzy “puppets” and placed words in their mouths that would make a certain giant yellow winged-one blush.
And the music speaks for itself. Songs you’ve never heard before which will stick in your heads and cause guffaws to burst forth due to remembered lyrics.
Metzger, the co-coordinator of the Communication/Theatre/Film program at Pierce College has taken this charming, albeit sexually explicit romp around the TV learning street and put a great big red “X” on it – NOT FOR CHILDREN – as suggested in the program.
Hey, this is one hilarious dirty – with a very capital D – show. But what a hoot!!
The story revolves around a young man (puppet) named Princeton who has just graduated from college. After being told, with typical assurance by parents, and by children’s PBS programs that he is “special” and “can do anything,” Princeton goes to the big city to make his fortune and find his “purpose.” He is met head on with the real world and finds that, in fact, he is no more special than anyone else and must relearn how to make it in the real world.
His adventures and misadventures make up this different sort of coming-of-age story told in song and dance with a cast of 10 humans and their alter-ego puppets – all handled in full sight of the audience so that the actors become “non-people” and are literally up-staged by the puppets, although not all actors have puppet other selves.
The story is played out against the backdrop of the sleazy Avenue Q street scene perfectly designed by Steve Cooper, who also does the lights, which hold a few real surprises.
Musical Director Nate Benson leads the singers with the able assistance of his four-man combo including Benson on keyboard; Ivan Payne on drums; Mike Cole with another keyboard; John Anthony Cole on Bass; and Walter Finch on guitar. They play sweet music with a toe-tapping beat. Sometimes, the combo is loud in the intimate space of Studio 320, but it is almost impossible to over-power the able cast.
Metzger’s choice of cast members couldn’t be better. It looks as thought they have been puppeteers and worked together forever. This is one smooth production with truly an ensemble cast.
Of course, some parts are smaller than others, although, working so closely together, it’s hard to discern if any actors are truly better than others.
Dessa Chalfant is nastily devious as The Bad Idea Bear 1.
Kristi Hoffman is equal as her counterpart, The Bad Idea Bear 2. Hoffman’s second part is Mrs. T, our heroine’s boss – an unlikable old bitty. She also works part of the puppet named Nicky; when she does this she becomes the epitome of a non-person. The audience almost forgets she is there. Nice job on all three.
Samantha Rapozo plays Lucy, the local nightclub chanteuse; she plays her just like the “loose” woman she is.
Kiva Allison is Gary Coleman – the apartment’s superintendent. This allegorical illusion to the child TV actor of the 80’s carries forth the problems of being “special” encountered by those going into the real world. Allison plays her role with a detachment befitting the character.
Brandon Garcia is Brian, one of the few non-puppeteers. Garcia’s would-be stand-up comic is quite comical – the character not very funny, but actor is.
Jasmin Lazaroo is his significant other, Christmas Eve, another non-puppeteer. Now, she is funny – especially when she arranges a surprise wedding for herself and Brian without his knowledge.
Cory Upton is the long and furry Trekkie Monster who is always searching for porn on the Internet. Upton also has a brief appearance as Ricky – both are puppets and Upton handles both admirably – especially the Monster who spends so much time looking out of his window not to distance himself from his computer search.
Chap Wolff is fantastic as the better part of Nicky; the congenial fellow gets along with everybody and isn’t afraid to openly speak his mind. Wolff plays Nicky with a believable naitivity which brings understanding to the role. His puppeteering, with the aid of Hoffman, is among the best in the show. Wolff also does a short role of The Newcomer at the end of the show.
Jazmine Harrington is our heroine, Kate Monster. Harrington has a pleasant nasal quality to her singing voice which matches the appearance of her character. The actor easily changes Kate from the unworldly pre-school teacher she is to the knowledgable love interest she has become.
Parker Dean has two roles – Princeton, our “special” guy who falls for Kate and Rod, Nicky’s roommate. Dean maintains the best character delineation throughout the production. He competently manages to make his alter-ego echo the mouthing of his lines in both parts while maintaining actor invisibility while in plain sight.
The entire ensemble cast is terrific to watch and a pleasure to hear. Each delivers his lines with maturity of seasoned actors and sing their songs with spot-on notes and delivery — kudos to all.
“Avenue Q,” as with all Pierce College Theatre productions, has a short run – only one weekend more. This Tony winning musical play can be seen at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23 at Studio 320 in the Cascade Building at the Fort Steilacoom Campus of Pierce College at 9401 Far West Drive, Lakewood, 98498.
Reservations are advised and can be made by calling the box office (253) 964-6710. They can also be purchased at the door for a mere $3 general admission – $2 for Pierce Students.
Don’t miss this laugh out loud take-off on the classic kiddy TV show. But heed the advice: hire a baby sitter and leave the kids at home! This kiddy show is for the big kids only and each and everyone will love it!