Evan Fornachon, Contributing Writer
It sucks to be you on “Avenue Q” but not when you’re at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Since Jan. 17 a dedicated crop of actors, both local and out of state, have been performing six shows a week for packed houses. Despite audience size, their energy is anything but little.
This risqué and controversial puppet-centric romp is all about a new kid on the block, Princeton (played by Andrew Keeler). Princeton is fresh out of college with a B.A. in English. Trying to find an affordable residence, he lands on “Avenue Q” and meets a colorful cast of neighbors.
There are many other characters who contribute to this musical. Kate Monster (played by Jennifer Theby-Quinn), the kindergarten teacher with dreams of opening her own private school for monsters. There is the good-natured slacker Nicky (played by Kevin O’Brien) and his closeted gay roommate and best friend Rod. Also, on the block is the big, hairy pervert known as Trekkie Monster and the fittingly named Lucy the Slut.
All these roles were double cast with Keller also playing Rod, Theby-Quinn doubling for Lucy, and O’Brien portraying Trekkie as well. The three human residents of the avenue include the “happy” couple Christmas Eve and Brian (played Grace Langford and Brett Ambler, respectively), who are a therapist and a wannabe comedian, along with the superintendent Gary Coleman (portrayed by Illeana Kirven).
Also featured in this musical are the Bad Idea Bears who are named after their great advice. Kate’s boss, Mrs. Thistlewat, makes an appearance, as well as Princeton’s gang of sentient moving boxes. Each of the roles were played by April Strelinger and Kevin O’Brien.
This show is the answer to the question nobody has asked: what if the cast of “Sesame Street” dealt with adult issues? The musical tackles relationship struggles, financial stresses and the existential dread that comes from having no purpose in life. They also mix in sensitive social issues such as racism and homosexuality.
It’s a small cast of four puppeteers who each take on multiple roles and three human character; all packed onto what looks like thirty-foot wide by ten-foot deep stage decorated with New York apartment facades on tracks that slide in and out as scenes require. This whole show is packed with witty lines and raunchy good toe-tapping numbers. Something that many audiences may miss through the laughs is the heart and the positive message that everything in life is only for now.
If it were your first time seeing the show, you may have had trouble following the show through uproarious laughter from other theater goers. Some of the biggest laughs spawned from numbers such as “If You Were Gay,” “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet Is for Porn.” If you are unfamiliar with the show, then these song titles should give you a good idea what you’re in for.
Stephen Henley, an avid fan who has seen the production three times, was kind enough to share his thoughts on the whole experience, “The lobby was well thought out with the cute photo booth and separate bar area,” he said.
The bar Henley mentioned served a variety of liquors and specialty cocktails, including one themed after Lucy the Slut, and in the photo, booth was a wagon filled with props and costumes pieces so you could capture a truly memorable photo from your night out at the theater.
About the show, Stephen remarked, “The puppetry was fascinating and believable… Standouts were Jen with Kate Monster and Lucy, Kevin with Trekkie Monster, and Grace with Christmas Eve.” I personally have to agree.
A young man named Kevin noted, “Actors were very dedicated, and I can only think about how much fun they were having. Cast chemistry was spot on.”
The laughs during the show along with the comments and being pre-sold out, it is clear that the show is a hit! I believe that is in part due to an incredibly committed talented cast lead by Miss Lee Anne Mathews.
Though if you were to ask her, all the credit would need to go to her spectacular cast. “Each one of them was incredibly prepared, enthusiastic, positive and ridiculously talented.”
The team that brought this production together faced many obstacles. For one, it was difficult to fit this large show into such a small space. The issues of space became problematic for the audience as well. In a small theater that seats 237, everyone was shoulder to shoulder and sightlines became problematic for the actors.
“Avenue Q,” originally set to close March 3, has extended its run through March 17, adding two weeks and 12 performances. Information of specific dates and times can be found on the event page on Facebook and tickets can be purchased through MetroTix.