Editor’s note: This is a revised version of the original review.
Reviewed by George Basler
Audience members know they’re in for a funny evening when even the pre-show announcement about fire exits and cell phones draws laughs.
That’s the case with SRO Underground’s production of Avenue Q, which opened last weekend (May 12-14) at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City.
The laughs continue throughout the two-hour and 15-minute show that is basically a spoof of the beloved children’s series Sesame Street, replete with fuzzy puppets and actors pulling the strings. The performance is funny and enjoyable with a highly skilled 11-member cast making the most of the clever material.
The 2003 musical stands out as one of the biggest sleeper hits in Broadway history. To the surprise of almost everyone, it beat out Wicked for the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2004.
The show, with a book by Jeff Whitty, tackles some pretty heavy topics. Racism, closeted homosexuality, the struggles of young adults and the erosion of the American dream head the list.
But it’s done with a light touch that proves the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” The songs by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx remain as tuneful as ever while the concept of having puppets interact with human characters remains fresh and inventive.
Moreover, Avenue Q is a delightfully offensive poke in the eye against uptight political correctness.
The plot centers on Princeton, a recent college graduate, struggling with the mundane issue of paying his bills while trying to find a higher purpose is life. He moves into a rundown block in New York City where he meets assorted characters, including Rod, a repressed gay Republican; his roommate, Nicky; Brian, a genial deadbeat; Christmas Eve, his Asian girlfriend; Gary Coleman, the former child star who is the building’s superintenden,; and Trekkie Monster, whose potty mouth and raunchy comments provide a lot of laughs.
Along the way, Princeton falls in love with Kate Monster, a kindergarten teaching assistant and the show’s other main character.
All this sounds silly, of course, and Avenue Q needs a strong cast and strong direction to make it work. SRO Underground has both. The performers have good comic timing and sing well as they put across the politically incorrect songs and cheeky dialogue. They also have great chemistry, something that is absolutely essential.
Kudos go to Scott Fisher, who did the stage and musical direction, and Annie Fabiano, his assistant.
Especially noteworthy is how well the performers work with the puppets. Fisher brought in Rick Lyon, who conceived and designed the original Broadway puppets, to work with the cast. The decision and, I’m certain, hours and hours of hard work paid off. The coordination is really remarkable.
Nonetheless, I have some issues with the SRO Underground production. In a few spots it goes over the line from humorous raunchiness to sophomoric bad taste.
Also, Avenue Q takes place in a neighborhood that is supposed to be a mixture of ethnicities. Racial prejudice is one issue touched on in the show. I would have hoped for an even more diverse cast.
This issue aside (and I’m perfectly willing to admit it’s a debatable point), Avenue Q provides a wonderful evening of entertainment.
The entire case deserves applause. They are Sean Sherwood (Princeton), Lindsey Boyer (Kate Monster), Eric Bill (Rod), Mickey Woyshner (Nicky), Josh Smith (Trekkie Monster), Laura Liburdi (Lucy), Annie Graham (Bad Idea Bear), Caitlin Westfall (Bad Idea Bear), Jimmy Massar (Brian), Elaine Laramee (Christmas Eve) and Amoreena Wade (Gary Coleman).
The set design by Gene Czebiniak is also first-rate. The small orchestra of Vicky Gordon, Paula Bacorn, Tommy Iafrate, Joe Hoffman and Robin Warner provided great accompaniment.
Avenue Q might not be the ideal neighborhood, but it’s one of the most joyful.
IF YOU GO: Avenue Q will be performed this weekend (May 19-21) at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage, 46-48 Willow St., Johnson City. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; the Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 ($20 for seniors and students). Call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.sroproductionsonline.com
A follow up to this review can be found at http://www.broomearts.org/broome-arts-mirror/an-apology/