The Howard Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman
Production: AVENUE Q
Theater: Playhouse On Park
Music and Lyrics by: Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx
Book by: Jeff Whitty
Director: Kyle Brand
I’m on the road to see the Tony Award Winning Musical-puppet-comedy “Avenue Q”- music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez and book by Jeff Whitty. What road you ask? – Park Road in West Hartford, the theater? – “Playhouse on Park”. You sure have a lot of “Q” questions! Firstly – let me state dear readers “Playhouse on Park” is a new venue for us- thank you POP for the invite. Second- as a newbie to the POP theater world this production of “Avenue Q”, here are my initial thoughts- plain and simply – “Avenue Q” – (think of it as a very adult Sesame Street-esque musical) left me with a smile on my face, a snap in my fingers, and literally “lit with “Q”happiness. In fact, as I departed the Playhouse On Park theater – I was actually humming “Q” show-tunes- and to me – “that says it all” – I had a great quintessential good time- and so will you- get on P to see Q! But that’s not all!!!
On the QT in fact, it’s been 40 years since I have last traversed the road to Park, During my youth we frequently ventured to POP’s next door neighbor- AC Petersen’s Farms, a regular hangout for freshly made ice cream, -and it still is – as POP I’m quickly learning, is now “the” place in West Hartford for live theater. BTW – No I didn’t stop by ACP’s for my usual pistachio ice cream cone- as you may know I most recently underwent open heart bypass and I’m desperately trying to be good to my heart, so I neglect the cream – and make my way to “Playhouse on Park”!!!
Several things I take note of immediately at the theater- a. I so enjoy the “Q” decor decorated throughout the POPs entrance way- cutouts of NYC landscapes line the walls, and various muppets- esque “Q silliness surround. b. Browsing thru the POP playbill, I happily take note that this “Q” production is Directed and Choreographed by a Hartt alumni, Mr. Kyle Brand, being a Hartt enthusiast myself, I quickly take note of his numerous Monomoy involvements and his lengthy roster of impressive theater credits. I know my friends Alan Rust and Johanna Morrison, staff at Hartt, are proud parents of all their students and all their theater endeavors. Lastly, being a “here at the right moment” type of person, during the queue to enter the theater, I take note of an older woman discussing the current “Avenue Q” production to a POP volunteer who matter of factly mentions, “My Grandson said-Grandma you’re going to see “Avenue Q”? you do know that musical is for mature audiences- there are a lot of adult themes in it”! “I told him – listen, I’ve seen it all- What was I?- born in Minsk or Pinsk? I know my way around – I even saw the original “Hair” on Broadway”!! Wow!!
Besides being a POP newbie, I confess I am a novitiate to all things “ Avenue Q” – I had originally thought it was a cute little “Sesame Street” knockoff, with sassy muppet-like puppets and sweet tunes that was suitable for kids of all ages. Boy was I wrong. Folks, please note this musical is indeed for “mature” audiences- if you take the kids – I strongly suggest they have had their “Birds and Bees” talk! There are some “adult” language, hot-button issues and situations found on “Avenue Q” and even I felt a bit awkward, sitting among a mostly elderly audience, during a prolonged sexually active tryst between two puppets. A bit of blushing does come with the “Q” quotient.
“Avenue Q” actually deals with young folks taking on real life responsibilities- getting a first job, finding a first apartment, first love, prejudice, alcohol, and all the angst associated with adulthood. With a cast consisting of eleven “Sesame Street” style puppets and three humans who intermix, interact, and intermingle – we are quickly introduced to Princeton, (Weston Chandler Long) a recent college graduate with a “What Do You Do With A BA in English”, and who is not able to find an affordable apartment on Avenue A, has made his way all the way to Avenue Q. Up next on the Q hood, we are introduced to roommates Rod and Nicky (voiced by Weston and Peej Melendez), Kate Monster, (voiced by Ashley Brooke) a kindergarten teaching assistant, Trekkie Monster (voiced by Peej Melendez) who spends his time on the “computer”, unemployed Brian, (James Fairchild) who dreams of being a comedian while his Japanese fiancee, therapist Christmas Eve (EJ Zimmerman), is on the lookout for at least one client. Mrs T. and Bad Idea Bears ( voiced by Colleen Welsh, also a Hartt Alum – (see Colleen I didn’t forget you) and rounding out the cast is the “Avenue Q” building landlord- Gary Coleman ( Abena Mensah-Bonsu) yep!- the real “What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” Kid! I can honestly say of all the characters presented, I really felt for “Coleman” – who sings “It Sucks To Be Me”, once a well known successful TV star, his money squandered by his parents, before his passing Coleman had actually worked as a security guard.
From the start- the “Q” catch may be the “Avenue Q” quasi puppet/muppet vibe, but the matter of fact – you are here for the Infectiously enthusiastic cast, “tv of my youth vibe” and those catchy hummable tunes – they are the real stars of this production. And regarding those “real oh my stars” stars- well let me tell you- this entire, ENTIRE, cast is miraculous- I really can’t single out just one- they are all stars and shine on stage in their own right! From their singing, dancing (great job again Kyle Brand with the choreography) plus many of them have to perform with a “muppet like puppet” on their arms for over two hours- amazing!! As mentioned, a bit of blushing comes with the Q territory- but as learned earlier – are we from Minsk or Pinsk? We are worldly theater goers – and I say go West – that’s West Hartford to see Playhouse on Park’s production of “Avenue Q”! Enjoy!
Tickets for the Playhouse on Park’s production of “Avenue Q” are on sale now and can be purchased by calling the POP box office at 860-523-5900 x10 or visit http://www.playhouseonpark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com.