Friday, September 28, 2012

Definitely not Sesame Street

Mamaroneck, N.Y.'s Westchester Sandbox Theatre continues to score the premiere regional runs of major Broadway musicals. As I was able to catch up with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (see blog post here) several months ago, having missed it in Manhattan, I was similarly able a few days ago to see Avenue Q, the puppet drama that is decidedly not Sesame Street.

It's the same idea -- a group of characters hanging out in and around an urban apartment building -- but with a decidedly adult twist. You really haven't lived until you've seen two "naked" puppets having sex.

The story begins with naive young Princeton (Todd Ritch), who sings the witty opening song, "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?" which is as resonant now as it was ten years ago when Avenue Q opened. He is, of course, looking for an apartment -- the eternal Manhattan quest -- and finds one at a building where the janitor is Gary Coleman (Kenney M. Green), "the" Gary Coleman formerly of TV fame.

The other residents are unemployed (this really is relevant today!) Brian (Jeremy Geller), giving voice to his circumstances in "It Sucks to Be Me." But it doesn't wholly suck to be Brian, as he has a fantastic Asian wife (Alanna Chuyan) named, inexplicably, Christmas Eve.

Princeton meets an insecure teacher's assistant, Kate (Triona O'Callaghan) and two guys who are roommates, Nicky (Jake Mills) and Rod (also Ritch). An odd fuzzy fellow named Trekkie Monster (with a passing resemblance to Sesame Street's Cookie Monster and also played by Mills) lives upstairs.

The original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (also responsible for the book and lyrics, respectively) cleverly included a video screen with various animated scenes commenting on the action. One can also see why Lopez was chosen to work on Book of Mormon, as characters that recall the squeaky-clean puppets of Sesame Street live in today's f-bomb reality.

Trekkie Monster enthusiastically sings about how "The Internet Is For Porn." Rod is so far into denial of his sexuality that the realization that he's gay is liberating. Nicky may or may not be gay (we all did wonder about Bert and Ernie, didn't we?).

There's a youth-TV type of social lesson - the "monsters" (Kate is one) are discriminated against and Kate forms a special school (the "Monsterssori School") for them.

The scenic design by Bob Butterley makes the most of a simple apartment block facade. I liked lighting designer Nathan Gray's choice of shadows for the opening. Stephen Ferri's small band was tight and bright and Bryan McPartlan and Jon Hatton's sound design able supported the players.

Overall, the songs and Jeff Whitty's book are so jaunty and good-natured that where I found Book of Mormon to be leering and not particularly amusing, I was perfectly willing to go where Avenue Q's troupe wanted to lead. 

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