Oh, if life were only like what we thought it would be when we were kids…you know: miniature trolley’s running through our neighborhood, friendly, sexually ambiguous puppets living just next door (and sometimes even in our trash cans) and everyone sporting a perpetually sunny mood. Then you grow up and learn that life isn’t like that at all–until now, as 3-D Theatricals presents the regional premiere of one of the most inventive musicals to come skipping off the Great White Way, with “Avenue Q”. Once again, “The O.C’s” little theatre company that could is proving it can–and, judging from the thoroughly enthusiastic response on opening night, they’re cultivating a newer, wider audience in the process. In fact, it’s safe to assert that Orange County theatergoers themselves may at last be coming of age with this, the winner of three 2004 Tony Awards (Best Book, Best Score & Best Musical). Also featuring the original Broadway set and costumes, one thing’s certain: there’s a lot of amazing artistry occurring at the landmark Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton California!
Co-Directed by T.J. Dawson and C.J. Porter (who similarly appears in the cast) the play takes a slightly skewed, but always raucously funny, look at those fantasies presented to us in our formative years–this time with a decidedly more “Adult” (brought to you with a capitol A) sensibility. Thanks in large part to the sharp and clever book by Jeff Whitty (honest–that’s his name!–) through all the no-hold-barred laughs is a first-class coming-of-age parable that lampoons the issues and anxieties of adulthood. In addition, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s score effectively recalls the innocent, toe-tapping simplicity of Sesame Street’s resident composer, Joe Raposo, while adding their own hilarious, satiric, bite regarding numerous, ‘less than idealistic’ truths about modern life; yet, equally emphasized is how we’re all in this together (Example: “Even though we all know that it’s wrong, maybe it would help us get along.”) Potent stuff, which adds up to a side-splitting little burlesque that’s literally like nothing you’ve ever seen at the theater before. Be forewarned though, despite the presence of lots of colorful puppet characters, this is definitely NOT for children! Nonetheless, for those who agree that musical theater can actually stretch beyond the realm of optimistic red-haired orphans and umbrella-wielding British nannies, a magnificently entertaining time awaits.
Much like the program set on that other famous thoroughfare, interjected into the action are some nifty animated sequences that are achieved via several small screens lowered in and out of view at key moments. Consider to boot, what other show can boast a third director (Christian Anderson) who is solely dedicated to the numerous puppet sequences featured throughout? Then again, even the hero of our story is a puppet–the aptly named “Princeton”, a recent college grad who, armed with his B.A. in English boldly sets out to taste life with no academic advisor to point the way, and discover his ‘purpose’ (“I can’t pay the bills yet, ’cause I have no skills yet–the world is a big scary place, “ he sings.) Before he “makes a difference to the human race” though, he needs to find an affordable apartment. Beginning at New York’s Avenue A, it isn’t until he finds digs in a rather run-down (but at least within his means) building on the titular lane. There, he and his neighbors all lament in the rousing opening how despite being assured as children (particularly by all the saccharine-coated kiddie-shows they were inundated with) that they were unique, exceptional and “could do anything”, once grown they’ve quickly discovered that out in the real world “You are”, as one character puts it, “NO luckier or more special than anybody else!” In short, “It Sucks To Be Me”.
A trio of actual flesh-and-blood performers are joined by some of the sassiest, bawdiest puppets this side of Mr. Roger‘s most repressed salacious nightmares. However, whether flesh, felt or fur, the local denizens of this off-beat street are sure to win over the most hardened (and conservative-thinking) hearts, as was well in evidence at Saturday’s opening. So too, a few of our fabricated heroes’ ‘real-life” alter-egos serve double (and sometimes triple) duty taking on several roles. These ‘handlers’ provide the voice, movement and, when choreography comes into play, the legs for each of these characters–among them, Louis Pardo who does an outstanding job working and voicing “Princeton” around whom most of the action revolves AND Rod, the uptight banker and show-tune enthusiast who keeps insisting he’s NOT one of those ’homo-whatevers” (“How can I be gay?!” he argues, “I’m a Republican!”) This gives occasion for one of the better song-and-dance routines when Rod’s insistence that he seeing a lass named Alberta (“My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada”) literally requires Pardo to make with some fine fancy foot work to get ol’ Rod’s limp point across! Likewise, with a voice that sounds uncannily like a young Jim Henson, Nathan Danforth performs the same remarkable tasks with Rod’s slacker roomie, “Nicky” as well as “Trekkie Monster”–the hirsute perv upstairs who seldom leaves his room (or computer screen for that matter) in his near-Arthurian quest for porn. Meanwhile, Caitlin Humphreys practically astounds as both Kate, the sweet natured girl-monster-next-door, and the skanky, pole-dancing chanteuse with a big…uh…voice, “Lucy The Slut“. Teya Patt too, not only helps maneuver Nicky and Trekkie (–yes, they take two people) she also offers terrific support as Kate’s prudish employer “Mrs. Thistletwatt” among several others. As any seasoned voice-over artist will tell you, holding a dialogue between yourself is never easy–to do it on stage in full view of an audience is even more challenging. This group makes it look effortless–never missing a note, step or punch-line while doing it!
Moreover, the three non-textile-based actors all have their moments in the spotlight as well–and each proves more than worthy. As Gary Coleman, the former child star reduced to working as the building’s superintendent, vivacious Angela Polk delivers vocal power of a magnitude big enough to absolutely rock the already cavernous Plummer Auditorium– plus she has the moves to match! Co-Director Porter is himself right-on-the-money (not to mention unsettlingly relatable) as Brian, an unemployed schlub and would-be comic, while Camille Chen as his fiancé, ‘Christmas Eve‘, confirms she also has a voice to be reckoned with during her second act ode to settling for what or who-ever comes along, “The More You ‘Ruv’ Someone”. Doubtless though, the best numbers here are those that involve the entire company–especially “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist“, “There Is Life Outside Your Apartment”, and the evening‘s overwhelming audience favourite, “The Internet Is For Porn”. Eventually, a happy (if not overjoyed) ending greets our friends as Kate, with help from Princeton and the rest, realizes her dream of opening a “Monster-sori” School for little monsters right there on Avenue Q, while Rod and Nick reaffirm their friendship after the newly “out” Rod is introduced to “Rick”–another puppet who bears a striking resemblance to his work-shy pal (–“If He Were Gay“ of course!)
Having debuted on Friday July 13, “Avenue Q” is now playing at The Plummer Auditorium where it will run through Sunday, July 29, 2012 with performances on Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Plummer Auditorium is located at 201 E. Chapman Ave. in Fullerton, CA, with plenty of free parking across from the theater. Afterwards, it will move to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center located at 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Redondo Beach, California, where it will reopen for an additional quartet of performances starting on Friday, August 3 at 8pm and continuing though Saturday, August 4 at 2pm and 8pm, with Sunday, August 5 at 2pm. Tickets range from $28 – $56 (student and group discounts are also available) and can be purchased by calling their box office at (714) 589-2770, or logging onto 3-D Theatricals’ website at www.3dtshows.com .
Photos by Isaac James Creative, courtesy of Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) Additional photos by Leonard H. Buckowksi; Special Thank You To David Elzer at Demand PR, T.J. Dawson, Daniel Dawson and to the cast and crew of 3-D Theatricals’ “Avenue Q” for making this story possible.