Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, in conjunction with Stanford Broadway Across America Miami, Kevin McCollum, Robyn Goodman, Jeffrey Seller, The Vineyard Theatre and The New Group presents the national tour of Avenue Q.
Avenue Q opened Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in March of 2003 where it won that season's Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical. It then moved to Broadway's John Golden Theatre on July 31, 2003, where it is still running. In 2004 Avenue Q received six Drama Desk Award nominations and five Tony Award Nominations, winning three Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical. The subsequent cast album received a Grammy Award nomination as well.
Avenue Q is largely inspired by the PBS children's program "Sesame Street." It features music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and a book by Jeff Whitty. Unlike "Sesame Street," Avenue Q openly addresses adult topics such as racism in the song "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist", pornography as in "The Internet Is For Porn", and homosexuality as in "If You Were Gay." As the show's characters face today's adult problems instead of those faced by pre-schoolers, there is adult language and content (including simulated sex between nude puppets) that make this show PG-13.
All but three of the characters are puppets, designed and constructed by original cast member Rick Lyons, that are operated by the actors onstage. The puppets speak directly to each other and never to the actors operating them. The characters who are not puppets relate to the puppets, rather than to the actors holding them. During the course of the show, a puppet character may be operated by more than one of the actor-operators, although the same actor creates the voice for a particular puppet even if he or she is not holding the puppet at the time. The puppeteers wear nondescript black/gray clothing while the three human characters are dressed in bright colors like the puppets.
The set of Avenue Q depicts several tenements on a rundown fictional street located "in an outer borough of New York City." This fictional Avenue Q could be in the Midwood and Gravesend area of Brooklyn, where there are Avenues A through Z, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Avenue Q. The street between Avenue P and Avenue R is known as Quentin Road, named for the youngest son of President Roosevelt. The Q subway train, whose symbol used to be a Q in an orange circle resembling the Avenue Q logo, travels through this neighborhood. However, the authors have stated that Avenue Q is fictional and is not related to this or any other particular street.
The recurring theme of Avenue Q is the central character's search for a "purpose." Most of the characters are in their 20s and 30s, seeking happiness and direction. There is Princeton, a recent college graduate who moves to Avenue Q to start his career only to find he has been downsized out of his job. He clumsily romances his neighbor Kate Monster, a single assistant kindergarten teacher. Other neighbors are long-time roommates Nicky and Rod, who must iron out their friendship as Rod struggles with his homosexuality. There is also Brian, an unemployed comedian, and his Japanese fiancee named Christmas Eve, who is a therapist with no clients. Trekkie Monster is the somewhat reclusive, porn-loving upstairs neighbor; and former child star Gary Coleman is the apartment superintendent. They all complain about their lives in the song "It Sucks to Be Me," but at the end of the show they happily conclude that even if things may be bad at the moment, everything in life is only "For Now."
In this national tour production, Robert McClure is talented as both Princeton and Rod, though stronger as Princeton. Kelli Sawyer is sweet and charming as Kate Monster, and her singing voice shows versatility when she sings as Lucy. She provides one of the moving highlights of the show as she tearfully sings "There's A Fine, Fine Line." Angela Ai is very funny as Christmas Eve, especially in "When You Ruv Someone." Regrettably, actor Cole Porter phones in his performance as her fiance Brian. David Benoit is best suited to the gruff voiced Trekkie Monster. The ensemble fills in delightful moments from start to finish.
Some of the appeal of Avenue Q is surely the shock value of puppets dealing frankly with adult issues and those issues becoming songs delivered in the style of children's theatre. Structurally it is odd to have a woman playing the real, living male celebrity Gary Coleman. One does wonder how the authors arrived at this choice. It also feels odd to watch one person handling a puppet while watching another actor provide the voice for that puppet (while holding a different puppet). However, the actors in this production beautifully marry the acting/singing with the handling of the puppet so that the character is truly enhanced by their work. Avenue Q is a fresh and thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience. You may well find yourself humming tunes and quoting from the show before you get home from the theatre.
Avenue Q appeared May 13 - May 18, 2008 at the Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami, FL. For information or to purchase tickets for the many diverse offering of the Arsht Center, you may contact them at 305-949-6072, or visit them at www.arschtcenter.org. Tickets are also available in person through Ticketmaster by phone at 305-358-5885 in Dade County, in person at Ticketmaster outlets, or online at www.ticketmaster.com. This tour of Avenue Q is also scheduled to appear November 25 - 30, 2008 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach. For more information you may also go to www.AvenueQ.com.
Stanford Broadway Across America - South Florida is presented in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association. The Florida Theatrical Association is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over 5 million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year. For more information or to purchase tickets through an authorized agent, please visit www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.
The actors and stage managers in this production are members of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.