Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
If you're for some reason unfamiliar with the show, Avenue Q (which won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical) is sort of like "Sesame Street" as brought to you by the letter "F." As in the "F" word. As in profane puppets having sex, drinking to excess, a porn-obsessed character called Trekkie Monster, and another named Lucy the Slut. In short, leave the kids at home.
Despite its R-rated nature, Avenue Q isn't all about sex. In fact, it's really quite a sweet story, filled with delightful music and one laugh line after another, which kept a smile on my face for the entire 2.5 hour running time. The story centers on Princeton (Nick Rodrigues), a puppet who has just graduated from college, but finds his BA in English isn't in high demand, which leads him to Avenue Q in search of an apartment he can afford. The Q-sters welcome him to their community: Brian and Christmas Eve (Ted Zoldan and Isabel Anne To) are humans, as is Gary Coleman (Angel Adedokun), now the super in Princeton's building after his parents stole the money he made on TV. Roommates Rod and Nicky (Nick Rodrigues and Jake Gale) are puppets, as are the aforementioned porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster (also Jake Gale) and the adorable kindergarten teaching assistant Kate Monster (Maya Michal Sherer).
It would be hard not to like Avenue Q. There are many hysterically funny songs ("It Sucks to Be Me," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," and "Schadenfreude," among others), a sweet ballad ("There's a Fine, Fine Line," which might be my favorite song in the show), and a sweet, funny ballad ("The More You Ruv Someone") and a book that won the Tony Award for writer Jeff Whitty. While this production may lack the polish of the version I saw on Broadway almost 15 years ago, it's just as entertaining, just as funny, and just as relevant.
The cast is clearly having the time of their lives. Jake Gale is wonderful as Nicky, the Ernie-ish half of the "Bert and Ernie" roommates Rod and Nicky. Rodrigues (who doubles as Princeton) is wound taut as the deeply closeted Rod, and the two exhibit a delightful chemistry. Maya Michal Sherer's Kate Monster represents the soft, creamy center of the show, and Sherer's sweet (but not cloying) soprano does marvelous justice to both her comic numbers and ballads.
But it may be Jake Gale's Trekkie Monster who steals this show. He imbues the furry green beast with such humanity and energy that you could feel the mood of the room lift every time Trekkie appeared.
If you've never seen Avenue Q, what are you waiting for? It's fast becoming a comic classic, has tunes you will be humming as you leave the theatre, and features some wonderful puppetry with a homespun feeling. This is a fantastically entertaining show brought brilliantly to life in this excellent production by New Conservatory Theatre Center. Do note there are two casts: a "purple" cast and an "orange" cast. The "purple" cast was on stage for the performance I saw.
Avenue Q, through January 6, 2019, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $38-$65, and can be purchased at NCTCSF.org or by calling 415-861-8972.