by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
PBTS officially opened the 2012-2013 season on its main stage with the Tony Award Winning Musical “Avenue Q.” The North Florida premier of this hilarious musical will be on stage in Jacksonville Beach until October 13, Thursday -Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees on Sundays at 2 pm. For additional information and reservations, call (904) 249-0289 or visit Playersbythesea.org.
“Avenue Q” is an incredibly funny and clever show that should not be missed but be forewarned it is not for everyone. If “Q” were a movie it would be “R” rated for language, puppet nudity, and puppet sex scenes. Apparently none of this bothered the 2004 Tony Award voters who selected it as Best Musical, with Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score in 2004; “Wicked,” which was nominated for the same categories, presented formidable competition. The play ran for over 2,500 performances on Broadway, then moved Off Broadway in 2009, where it is still running, it has toured throughout the world.
The principal character is Princeton (Shane Grahm), a 23-year-old college graduate with a B.A. in English. He is looking for work and has moved into a brownstone on gritty Avenue Q run by formerly successful TV star Gary Coleman (Janaye Rodgers). He is surrounded by a host of colorful neighbors, all, like Princeton, trying to find their purpose in life in difficult times. Although written in 2003, the character’s concerns about employment and financial security are contemporary issues.
Princeton meets Kate Monster (Katie Swider), a cute kindergarten teaching assistant who eventfully becomes his girlfriend. Kate dreams of opening a Monstersori School, that will help young monsters be accepted by the global society. Rod ( Pablo Milla) and Nicky (Joe Walz) have some issues about their sexuality. Brian (Robert Pelaia), an unemployed wannabe comic, has a Japanese fiancée named Christmas Eve (Jocelyn Geronimo, who also choreographed the show with Director Shirley Sacks), who is a therapist.
Just when you think you have meet all the zany characters you can handle, up pops Trekkie Monster (Jon Fine) who doesn’t much care for his neighbors but does like internet porn, and Lucy (Amy Allen Farmer) a Mae-West like big busted woman who obviously loves men, all of them.
Other characters in smaller but hilarious roles are The Bad Idea Bears (Leslie Richart and Thomas Nightingale). Ms. Richart also changes her voice and becomes Kate’s boss Mrs. Thistletwat.
Gary Coleman, Brian, and Christmas Eve are the only human characters. All the puppet characters are manipulated with wonderful precision by the actors. It’s harder than it looks; they have to animate the puppets, provide voices, and sing and dance, all in character.
What are the many life problems tackled by the residents of this street? Looking at some of the song titles is perhaps the best way to make you aware of the themes in this show. You’ll hear “It Sucks to Be Me,” “If You Were Gay,” ” Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” “The Internet Is for Porn,” and “You Can Be as Loud as You Want When You’re Making Love.”
Director Shirley Sacks has done an incredible casting job, and to single out individual performers as praiseworthy would be unfair. All were outstanding and superb, with great voices, and great comic timing, and the skills to delight the audience by bringing their characters to life.
The band tucked away behind the building performed to perfection, led by Musical Director Bryant Miano on Keyboard with Mike Feely (Bass), Phillip Gillette(Percussion) and Daniel Dickenson(Woodwinds).
Set Designer Brian Grant’s two-story building really transports the audience to New York and this interesting neighborhood. The puppets appear both on stage and at upstairs windows. Grant has designed a rolling platform system that must be moved with precision when the characters go inside or appear at the windows. Kudos to the swift moving and dedicated Deck Crew of David Garret, Tadan Middleton, and Amanda Eason, led by Stage Manger Annie Garner and assistant Tess Pelaia, who kept this running like clockwork. Besides working the platforms back and forth, they brought on various set pieces like couches and tables.
Jim Wiggins’s always award-winning light designs are evident. Adding to the experience, Jacob Fine, Animation Designer, created a video presentation for a large screen at the top of the set in center stage, which very much augmented the action.
The adorable puppets were custom created by Austen Weitzel, a Stanton graduate whose work we have seen in the past in “Joseph” at the Wilson Center and “The Tempest” at Stanton. Rick Farmer contributed some delightful box puppets used in one of the street scenes.
Each August Players holds its annual volunteer awards event at the theatre. We recall several seasons back, the entire cast of “Hair” received an ensemble award. We’re predicting the cast of “Avenue Q” will be similarly honored, so might as well start engraving those trophies now.
There are many lessons to be learned in this musical from the talented team of Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, so by all means don’t miss this show. There is something very special about being less than thirty feet away from these outstanding performers, who are even miked so you can hear every word. Tickets are going fast as word of mouth about this hilarious show is being spread by the wildly enthusiastic opening night audience, who applauded each and every show-stopper song.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM