by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre opened its annual summer musical with the 2004 Tony Award winner “AVENUE Q” by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. The play was on Broadway for over 2,500 performances, then moved to Off-Broadway and is still going strong in New York.
“Q” is scheduled to run at the Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Gainesville until June 23, but if it is like any of the previous summer blockbuster shows, it may very well be extended. We attended a Sunday matinee along with an excited and enthusiastic audience.
The Hipp’s theatre is the perfect size for the production, as it allows audience members to fully appreciate the puppets and their animation by the actors. We had seen the play previously in a large venue, where it wasn’t nearly as engaging. Seeing this musical in a smaller theatre is definitely the best way to go.
Avenue Q is adult entertainment and a bit on the naughty side, but the audiences love it. After all, how can you be upset with a puppet?
Briefly the story concerns Princeton, a recent college graduate, who has come to the neighborhood of Avenue Q hoping to find cheap rent followed by a job. On his first day he finds an apartment and also meets Kate Monster, a lovely kindergarten teaching assistant with whom he eventually falls in love. His colorful neighbors include roommates Nicky and Rod, who is struggling with issues related to his sexuality; and Trekkie Monster, a recluse who lives on the second floor and is obsessed with internet porn. All these characters are puppets; the only three human characters in the musical are Gary Coleman, the former TV star who is now the superintendent of the building, Brian an unemployed wannabe standup comic , and Brian’s lovely Japanese fiancée named Christmas Eve.
Four other unique characters are involved. Two very cute Bad Idea Bears often lead others astray; Mrs. T is Kate Monster’s unsupportive boss; and Lucy is a big-busted Mae West type who loves men, men and more men.
The song titles indicate some of the day to day problems the residents experience. The titles should also let you know that this show is not for children and is rated an at least an “R” by movie standards. Songs that you won’t be hearing on the radio any time soon but are catchy and clever include: “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today”, “The Internet is for Porn”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “If You were Gay”, and ‘It Sucks to be Me.”
In the many years we have covered the Hippodrome, we have never seen a play that had eleven (the entire cast) making their Hipp debuts. It is directed by the Hippodrome’s Artistic Director Lauren Caldwell, with UF Professor of Theatre Charlie Mitchell as co-director. This production was produced in partnership with the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance. Five of the eleven actors are University students in the theatre program.
All the puppet characters are manipulated with excellent precision by the actors while they sing and dance with electrifying exuberance. It is obvious the entire cast was totally immersed in the fine art of entertaining.
The set, filled with brownstone apartments, by Scenic Designer Kent Barrett is excellent. The delightful puppets were designed by Darrin Pufall ; Clinton Thornton was the puppetry coach. Marilyn Wall put Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman in quite colorful costumes. We loved the evocative lighting of Lighting Designer Robert Robins, especially his creation of the Empire State Building. Stephanie Lynge was the choreographer, the music was recorded orchestrations and arrangements by Stephen Oremus.
To single out individual performers as praiseworthy would be unfair, as all were outstanding and superb with great voices and comic timing and all had the talent and skill to bring their characters to life.
The cast: JENNIFER LAUREN BROWN (Kate Monster, Lucy) GRACE EUNAE CHOI (Christmas Eve), DAVID COLLINS(Ensemble) DANIEL FUENTES (Bad Idea Bear), JOEL GENNARI (Nicky), JUANITA B. GREEN (Gary Coleman), MICHAEL HULL (Princeton, Rod), DAVID LEPPERT (Ensemble), JOSEPH LONDON (Brian), JOEL ORAMAS (Trekkie Monster) and MARISSA TOOGOOD (Bad Idea Bear, Mrs. T.).
If you want a unique look at the problems of life, then don’t miss Avenue Q. Remember we have rated it “R” for language along with puppet nudity. Call (352) 375-4477 for reservations or visit thehipp.org. We recommend the Saturday and Sunday Matinees, that way you can drive down and back in daylight.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM