If you were born before 1970, you probably never ran into TV’s giant yellow feathered creature which has captured the hearts and minds of the pre-school youth since that decade.
Prior to that era, children went to school to learn their ABC’s. They also learned that life wasn’t perfect, and if you didn’t work hard and especially do your homework; you might have to not only repeat a grade, but have a private meeting with your father behind the preverbal woodshed.
With the coming of the hypnotic children’s show, which traveled down the street of the magical name uttered by Aladdin, arrived a new idea in childrearing: Make learning fun!
And it worked. Children learned their alphabet and numbers, colors and shapes. They learned that they are not all alike – that the yellow, purple and green people were just as nice and lovable as they. They learned that just because other folk didn’t look just like them or speak their language, that didn’t mean they weren’t good people with the same hopes, dreams and rights that they have.
They also learned that they were special — to be the best they could and success would be theirs.
That’s where “Avenue Q” takes over. This musical with words and music by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty, takes a satirical look at the product of the era when a diploma from a good university would have one set for life.
The unique thing about this show is that it does parody that street-wise TV show by using puppets – not with out-of-sight puppeteers working the hand-held “actors” but with the actual human actor doing all the actions of the puppets in full view of the audience.
“Avenue Q,” the current production at The Lakewood Playhouse, tells the story of Princeton, a new college graduate who embarks on his journey to win the world and runs smack dab into reality.
Princeton meets a bevy of puppet people who resemble the residents of that other street and a few real people along with the shocking reality of what the world is really like when you are “special” just like everyone else is “special.”
The action takes place on a set designed by Larry Hagerman and Dylan Twiner, which gives the audience the façade of a two-story apartment building with revealing windows to each flat. There are other set pieces which are brought on and off stage by crew and actors. A couple of video monitors are placed at the edge of each side of the set, which are used for off-set explanations.
Brett Carr does lights; Nena Curley does sound; Costumes are done by Stephanie Huber and Jeanette Sanchez-Izenman is stage manager.
Music Director Josh Zimmerman also conducts the orchestra, which includes Zimmerman as keyboard 1; David Close and Greg Smith, keyboard 2; Dexter Stevens, woodwinds with Bruce Carpenter and Lauren Trew as sub; Joseph Ralston, Guitars/Banjo; Jesika Westbrook, bass; and LaMont Aitkinson, percussions. If you sit near one of the house speakers, the music may over-shine the lyrics at times, but Zimmerman keeps it down so the singers may be heard most of the time.
Director Victoria Webb has cast only seven actors to play the three human roles and nine puppets. Webb’s choice of cast members is excellent. The troupe seems to have a given knack for puppetry – or they are just really good students of Puppet Instructor Lance Woolen.
Webb keeps the actors in plain sight while working the puppets. However, the audience can’t take their eyes off the puppets – the actors remain “non-people,” exactly as they should be.
The show opens with Princeton coming on stage looking for an apartment and singing,”What Do You Do with a BA in English?”
He is greeted with some of the “Q” folk, which includes all three of the humans in the show, Brian and his significant other Christmas Eve who shows our grad the “For Rent” sign on the apartment building owned and operated by (of all people) Gary Coleman! Yes, the “What’chu talkin’ bout, Willis?” once youthful star of “Different Strokes.” Coleman rents a room to Princeton.
Nicky comes in and confides to all that he thinks his good friend and roommate Rod might be gay, which Rod denies, even when Nicky announces in song that “If You Were Gay,” that would be okay with him.
Everyone convinces Princeton that he must have “Purpose” and the youth spends the rest of the show looking for his elusive goal.
Princeton meets Kate Monster and all sing “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Kate and Princeton have a fleeting relationship, which is interrupted by Lucy, thanks to the Bad Idea Bears. The final puppet member on the street is Trekkie Monster, who never strays too far from his room because he is hooked on porn, and everybody knows that the Internet is a wealth of porn.
In the second act, Rod kicks Nicky out of his house. Gary Coleman and Nicky sing “Schadenfreude” – which means “people taking pleasure in others pain” – and Nicky tries to make some “Money” by begging from the puppets on stage and the audience.
Rod makes up with Nicky and admits that he is gay. Kate Monster and Princeton become friends. We see Princeton evolving from his naiveté to reality while still looking for his purpose and all sing “I Wish I could Go Back to College.”
Conner Brown plays Brian, the awful would-be stand-up comic. Brown’s comedy delivery is so bad, he’s funny.
JasminRae Onggao Lazaroo Is Christmas Eve. Part way through the play, Christmas Eve announces she and Brian are getting married, which is a pleasant surprise to the intended. Lazaroo is lovable as the take-charge misnomered distaff half of the charming duo.
Tony L. Williams plays Gary Coleman, the final human member of the cast. Williams’ cheeks aren’t as full and puffy as his impish counterpart, but he sings, dances and acts just right for the role. The actor always has a smile on his face, with which he infects the audience, which cannot help but smile through the whole show.
Kayla Crawford plays Mrs. Thistletwat, Bad Idea Bear and helps with other puppets when their operators are doing other persona. Crawford is wonderfully invisible as Mrs. T, who speaks only from an upstairs window, and she is cunningly conniving as Bad Idea Bear and happily lends a welcome hand with other cloth actors; Crawford proves an indispensable aide.
Derek Hall has two puppet personas, Nicky and Trekkie Monster. As Nicky, Hall is gentle, friendly, humble and kind. As Trekkie Monster, Hall makes such a change in his demeanor and voice; it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. The actor does a terrific job with both characters.
Taylor Davis is Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut. The dichotomy of the two characters is evident; Davis is sweet and naïve as Kate and a brazen, sexy hussy as Lucy. Davis wears each character perfectly with a change of voice and style.
Kyle Sinclair is Princeton and Rod. Sinclair plays the recent graduate as a bright lad, looking forward to his future which takes a dramatic, sexual downturn. The actor makes the puppet’s non-changeable being actually announce the change. As Rod, Sinclair is a kind, gentle man who knows he is as straight as the road to the top of Mount Rainier but keeps the big secret from all, including himself. Sinclair switches between the two characters at the drop of a snide remark. In fact, Sinclair actually plays four different roles – the naïve and down-hearted Princeton and the straight and un-closeted Rod – all while singing and dancing admirably; a job quite well done.
“Avenue Q” ” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, just behind the Pierce Transit Bus Depot through July 3, each Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There are two Thursday Pay-What-You-Can performances, June 9 and an Actor’s Benefit performance June 16 both, are at 8 p.m.
For more information or reservations, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
Get a babysitter, drop off the kids at a friend’s house for the night or, if they’re old enough, leave them at home. Put on a DVD of “Sesame Street” for them to watch.
This is a night for adults only to enjoy. Come prepared to smile, to laugh and to remember how satire, like learning, can be fun!