Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Avenue Q and
Christmas in San Francisco with Russ Lorenson and Friends

Also see Richard's review of Storefront Church and Jeanie's review of The Snow Queen

A Charming, Raunchy Production of Avenue Q

Will Giammona and Christopher Morrell
Photo by Lois Tema Photography
The Tony Award triple crown winner (Best Musical, Nest Book and Best Score) is being presented at the Decker Theatre at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through January 12th. This marks the third time I have seen this wonderful Muppet-style mix of humans and puppets, starting with the original Broadway production at the Golden Theatre. The second time was the national tour that played here in San Francisco. This production is a more intimate one, with some extra little naughty pieces.

I loved Avenue Q the first time I saw it and I have fallen in love with it all over again at the Decker Theatre. Avenue Q is "Sesame Street" for adults, with adult dilemmas like exasperating roommates, addiction to Internet porn, and one night stands. The plot centers around Princeton (William Giammona), a recent college grad who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q in Manhattan. Once there, he meets Kate (Stephanie Temple), who lives next door; Rod (also William Giammona), a closeted gay Republican; Trekkie (Christopher Morrell), a hairy monster who loves porn; and later, Lucy the Slut (Stephanie Temple). These and other colorful types help Princeton discover his purpose in life.

Robert Lopez' music is jaunty and lighthearted and Jeff Marx' lyrics aggressively contrast the bouncy jingles with wonderful chorales like "It Sucks to Be Me" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." Some of the hilarious highlights are the cast discussing the German word schadenfreude, which means pleasure in someone else's misfortune, and Trekkie Monster, in his gravelly voice belting out "The Internet Is for Porn."

William Giammona is outstanding as the loveable, confused Princeton and then morphs beautifully into the uptight Republican investment banker Rod who does not know he is really gay. Christopher Morrell is appealing as both the monster Trekkie and the ineptly well-meaning Nicky. He is terrific singing "If You Were Gay." ("If you were gay, that'd be okay ... I'd like you anyway ... It's in your DNA.") Sam Jackson gives a plucky presentation of television icon Gary Coleman, the apartment super who is now broke (his parents took all of his money).

Zac Schuman and Teresa Attridge give delightful performances as Brian and Christmas Eve, the odd couple and the only non-puppet characters besides Gary Coleman. Schuman is splendid as Brian, an ineffective and clumsy wannabe comedian who not only sings but tap dances. He belts out beautifully, "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today." Teresa Attridge gives a spirited presentation as Christmas Eve, who is an angry, aggressive psychotherapist with a thick Japanese accent. She gives a crowd-pleasing rendition of "The More you Ruv Someone" ("the more you want to kill 'em"). Millie DeBenedet is great as Mrs. Thistletwat and the auxiliary puppeteer.

Travis Howse has designed adorable puppets which blend very well with the live characters. You catch yourself looking at the puppets rather than the actors. Kuo Hao Lo's great set of the front of the apartment building is comparable to the New York set. Ben Prince, I-Yun Chung and Tim Vaughan on drums and percussion do super work assisting the characters.

Avenue Q runs through January 12 at the Decker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave off Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at

Russ Lorenson and Friends Annual Christmas Show

Crooner Russ Lorenson presented his eight annual Christmas in San Francisco at its new location the Pa'ina Lounge on Post Street on December 13th. It was a great way o get into a Christmas mood with smooth singing from Russ and his guest star Wesla Whitfield.

Russ Lorenson is a sophisticated performer who has impeccable vocal phrasing. His voice is suggestive of great singers like Tony Bennett, Chet Baker and Mel Tormé. He has flexible vocal cords when he sings both swinging and romantic songs. His delivery is natural and genuine.

Russ was back by a terrific jazz quartet with musical director Kelly Park on piano, Alexey Berlind on drums, Tony Malfatti on sax, and Brandon Essex on bass. They captivated the audience with their cool arrangements.

Russ opened with Sammy Fain and Paul Alter's "If I Hear Another Song About Christmas." However, he did sing several more yuletide songs, including Paul Rolnick and Henry Cory's "It'll Be Christmas Before You Know it" and Steve Lawrence and Berl Rotfeld's "Let Me Be the First to Wish You Merry Christmas." He then effortlessly sang a song by local composer Candace Forrest with lyrics by Nancy Schimmel called "Mrs. Claus." The last song in the set was the ever popular "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" by Irving Berlin.

Russ Lorenson's guest vocalist was the impressive pop-jazz singer Wesla Whitfield. Accompanied by her husband Mike Greensill on piano she put the audience in a melodious frame of mind, opening with "Never Never Land," with brilliant, more subtle shadings on the song. There was a sequence of three songs, "Happy as the Day Is Long," "I Just Found Out About Love" and the Christmas song "A Child Is Born" presented with perfect phrasing. She completed her guest gig with a harmonious rendition of "Errand Girl for Rhythm" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Russ Lorenson joined her in a hilarious rendition of Irving Berlin's "Sisters." Needless to say, Russ was one of the sisters. Other songs of the season presented included the Jay Livingston and Ray Evans Christmas standard "Silver Bells" and "I Guess There Ain't No Santa Claus," before the singer went Hawaiian on his fans with a "Mele Kalikimaka" medley that celebrated Christmas in Hawaii.

Russ concluded his show with a heartfelt rendition of David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager and Richard Page's "Thankful" and ended with Kim Gannon, Walter Kent and Buck Ram's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," segueing into Tony Romano's "Christmas In San Francisco," with additional lyrics by Russ.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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