Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It sucks to be you if you haven't seen Avenue Q

What do you get when you cross a Broadway musical with a TV sitcom AND The Muppet Show? That's the best way I can succinctly sum up the fun, funny and puppet-populated play that is Avenue Q. The story centers on idealistic fresh grad Princeton, who moves into the fictional New York district of Avenue Q and meets a crazy cast of characters: unemployed Brian and his Asian-American fiancee Christmas Eve; Kate Monster, a teaching assistant who can't find a boyfriend; Nicky and his roommate Rod, who's in the closet AND secretly in love with Nicky; Trekkie Monster, an Internet porn addict; and Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman), their superintendent. The plot mainly follows Princeton's search for his "purpose", as well as his romantic relationship with Kate Monster, but also traces the relationships among the supporting characters and how they all "grow up" in one way or another. It's a modern-day coming-of-age tale for twentysomethings, touching on contemporary issues like race, sex, homosexuality, unemployment, and technology, and its relevance makes it all the more engaging.

While even the best plays have a part that's sort of "slow", Avenue Q has nary a dull moment, which is why there's such a sitcom feel to it. Time flies when you're having a hoot, and this hoot of a musical felt more like a 22-minute episode of Friends than its actual hour-and-a-half run. There are countless of LOL-worthy lines in the snappy, smart script, suffused with the kind of irreverent humor that rings true with modern audiences. That there are obvious parallels to characters and themes from the well-loved classic children's TV show Sesame Street makes this for-grown-ups-only play even more wickedly funny. Cheeky songs like "It Sucks to Be Me", "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)"
and the wildly hilarious "The Internet is for Porn" sound like cheery Sesame Street ditties, only peppered with adult language and subjects. The use of puppets is also cleverly executed; the puppets are surprisingly "believable" (even during puppet sex) and expressive in their movements. I thought it would be distracting having the actors, unconcealed, handling and voicing the puppets, but it worked, even with some actors playing more than one puppet character.

A lot of credit goes to the actors for bringing such life to their inanimate alter egos, and props to Atlantis Productions for assembling such a stellar cast for this 5th and supposedly final run of Avenue Q. Rachel Alejandro was fabulous as sweet-natured Kate Monster and sultry seductress Lucy T. Slut. I've always thought of Ms. Alejandro as just another local celebrity with more talent than most... but not much. Seeing her in Avenue Q certainly changed my opinion. She can SING, really sing, plus her diction was crystal clear, and she moved around the stage with a fluid grace. Her solo as Kate in "There's a Fine, Fine Line" was plaintive and pure, and genuinely moving. I will never underestimate Rachel Alejandro again.

Felix Rivera, whose performance in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee made an impression on me, was even more outstanding in Avenue Q as both Princeton and Rod. Just like Rachel Alejandro, he made the 2 characters he was voicing not only sound so distinctly different, but also succeeded in making me forget that it was the same guy doing it.

The terrific Joel Trinidad again managed to give a solid comedic performance as both Trekkie Monster and Nicky. I loved Trinidad in Spelling Bee, loved him even more in Avenue Q. I can't believe the same guy who annoys the hell out of me in those Sky Broadband TV ads can be so charismatic onstage.

Calvin Millado was ok as Brian, but the role doesn't really let him flex a lot of acting or singing muscles, so he wasn't so much of a standout. Frenchie Dy overshadowed him as the lovable (or I should say "ruvable") Christmas Eve, but then again she got more memorable songs as well as more amusing dialogue.

If there was anyone in the cast I found a tad disappointing, it was Aiza Seguerra as Gary Coleman (I liked the inside joke of having a former child star playing a former child star though). Her singing was impeccable, but she needs to work on her black accent. Several of her character's zingers fell flat because she didn't deliver them audibly, and it was a waste of good writing.

Overall though, I was really wowed by the collective talent of the cast, and coupled with great Tony-award winning material, it made for quality live entertainment at its finest. After failing to catch the first 4 runs of Avenue Q, I'm glad I finally got to watch it. And if you haven't seen it yet, well I guess it sucks to be you.


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