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 (Mike Westrich), 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 (Nicole Piro), a single assistant kindergarten teacher. Other neighbors are long-time roommates Nicky (Christian Vandepas) and Rod (Westrich), who must iron out their friendship as Rod struggles with his homosexuality. There is also Brian (Trent Stephens), an unemployed comedian, and his Japanese fiancée Christmas Eve (Ann Marie Olson), who is a therapist with no clients. Trekkie Monster (Vandepas) is the somewhat reclusive, porn-loving upstairs neighbor; and Gary Coleman (Pamela Stigger) 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 are bad at the moment, everything in life is only "For Now."
All but three of the characters are puppets 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 puppets used for this production, based on original the designs by Rick Lyons, are remarkably well executed by Rick Pena.
The set 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 not related to this or any other particular street. Slow Burn Theatre again provides top notch scenic, lighting and sound design. The only flaw is that the lighting on the second floor window from which Trekkie Monster appears sometimes makes it hard to see his face.
Mike Westrich shines in this production of Avenue Q as both Princeton and Rod. He fully sings and acts all of his songs, and uses his puppet the most expressively of anyone in the cast. This dual role seems tailor made to showcase his talents, and he clearly defines their differences with his body and voice. Nicole Piro provides an earnest Kate Monster and an enjoyably slutty Lucy. Her best moments are in the emotional song "There's a Fine, Fine Line" and the tantalizing song "Special." Christian Vandepas shows amazing versatility jumping from the gravelly bass voice of Trekkie Monster to the solid tenor singing voice of Nicky, with moments of the child-like speaking voice of a Bad Idea Bear thrown into the mix. To find an actor who can do each voice as well as he does, and who can transition as quickly between them as the script requires is rare indeed. Pamela Stigger seems a bit forced as Gary Coleman at times, and strays flat on some of her singing, but has the right energy for the role. Ann Marie Olson is quite funny as the quirky Christmas Eve, and unveils a shockingly lush singing voice in the second act in the song "The More You Ruv Someone."
This production of Avenue Q is filled with delightfully entertaining moments from start to finish, with good puppetry, memorable songs, and lots of laughs!
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 closed its Broadway run after 2,534 performances on September 13, 2009. It then reopened Off-Broadway at New World Stages in October of 2009. 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.
Slow Burn Theatre's production of Avenue Q will be appearing through November 4, 2012, at the West Boca Performing Arts Center on the campus of West Boca High School, 12811 West Glades Rd. (3.5 miles west of 441). The Slow Burn Theatre Company is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) professional theatre company hiring local actors and actresses. They are committed to bringing high-quality contemporary musical theatre to South Florida, and proving that modern Broadway can rock. The company also offers technical internships to local students, providing them with professional experience. For more information on Slow Burn you may contact them by phone at 866-811-4111 or line at www.slowburntheatre.com.
Photo: Gemma Bramham