Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Avenue Q
Novato Theater Company

Also Richard's reviews of The Whale and Yeast Nation and Jeanie's review of The Rainmaker

Robert Nelson with Princeton, Amanda Morando with Kate Monster, and Dell Parker
One of the joys of live theater is the opportunity to be part of a community. As much as I enjoyed PBS's television broadcast of Lincoln Center's production of The Nance (don't miss it if it repeats), seeing a show with other people helps to reveal what we share as humans. When we laugh or cry or gasp in amazement together, we are reminded of what unites us. Theater, as SF Playhouse's artistic director Bill English says, is indeed an "empathy gym."

Sitting in my back row seat at Novato Theater Company's production of Avenue Q, the Tony Award-winning musical of 2003, I was able to observe a theater full of people having a terrific time together. And why shouldn't they? Avenue Q is a terrific show, with many funny songs, a sweet ballad ("It's a Fine, Fine Line") and a sweet, funny ballad ("The More You Ruv Someone"). What's more, Novato Theater Company has done a wonderful job bringing the show to the stage. From the colorful set to the energetic and heartfelt performances to the costumes and puppets, this production is firing on all cylinders.

"Puppets?" you ask. "This is a puppet show?" Sort of. If you're not familiar with Avenue Q, it's sort of like "Sesame Street," but brought to you by the letter "F." As in the "F" word. As in simulated puppet sex. As in a Cookie Monster-esque character addicted to porn.

Though this puppet show is most definitely not for children, it's not all about sex, either. At its heart, it's really quite a sweet story. Princeton (Robert Nelson) is a recent college graduate who ends up on Avenue Q looking for an apartment he can afford—and a purpose in life. Here, Princeton finds a community: humans Brian and Christmas Eve (Peter Carroll and Mia Klenk), engaged to be married; Gary Coleman (Dell Parker), the former child actor and the super in Princeton's building; and other puppets—roommates Rod and Nicky (Alexander Belmont and Seth Dahlgren), the aforementioned porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster (also Seth Dahlgren), and adorable kindergarten teaching assistant Kate Monster (Amanda Morando).

Like so many college graduates, Princeton discovers life in the big city is a lot more challenging than he'd thought it would be, but with the help of his new friends, he'll find his purpose—but not without having to surmount a few hurdles.

There is so much to like about this show. The songs are hysterical, the book is both sweet and very funny, and the use of puppetry imaginative and completely organic to the action onstage. Carl Jordan's direction is excellent (the Javanese shadow puppets are a brilliant touch), and he draws wonderful performances from everyone in the cast. Amanda Morando is especially good as Kate Monster, and her touching rendition of "It's a Fine, Fine Line" is one of the highlights of the evening. Robert Nelson is excellent as well, and Seth Dahlgren is brilliantly at ease moving between his two roles. (Though if I had to vote, I'd say his big-voiced Trekkie Monster is the most crowd-pleasing.)

The set design by Steve Murch is also terrific, transitioning seamlessly between interiors and exteriors, providing the perfect environment for this cast to play in. Special acknowledgment is due Mary Nagler, who created all the puppets (several dozen!). Though they are similar to those used in the original New York staging, Nagler has added her own style to the characters.

The orchestra, under the direction of Monica Norcia, gives the score the bounce it deserves, and keeps the energy going all night long.

There is very little to criticize here. Yes, Dell Parker hasn't found his voice yet, and it's odd to imagine Gary Coleman as being six-feet plus, but his performance is so sincere and upbeat that it's hard not to like him. Yes, the puppetry gets a little manic at times, but not to the point of distraction.

If you've never seen Avenue Q, you're in for a delightful surprise. It's a fantastically entertaining show—and NTC's production of it brings all its brilliance to life.

Avenue Q runs through November 9, 2014, at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 general and $22 for seniors and students. Tickets and additional information are available at or by calling 415-883-4498.

Photo: Sarah Nelson

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

- Patrick Thomas