The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents the three-time Tony Award winning Best Musical Avenue Q, with Book by Jeff Whitty and Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Directed and choreographed with great enthusiasm by Frank D. Shutts II, this clever, bold musical parodies the childhood favorite Sesame Street by taking you to a world where your puppet friends grew up with you, encountering the good, bad, and ugly challenges that come with looming adulthood.
Set Designer MYKE transforms the stage into a block of townhomes, constructed by Chris Feldman and Dan Remmers and painted by Leslie Reed. The bricks are faded and worn, with rundown fences and rickety air conditioner units. The whole scene is eerily familiar—like running into a childhood friend years later on a seedy street (except this friend IS the seedy street). That’s because this set is decorated much like the setting of Sesame Street—without the bright, cheery (and clean) quality that we remember. A billboard is also used as a television screen throughout the show, and gives tutorials much like the ones from the famed show, only these tutorials are about topics such as one night stands instead of the A-B-C’s.
Lighting Designers Ken and Patti Crowley use effects such as spotlighting for solo numbers and softer shades for the (rare, but there) poignant moments. This production also boasts a live Avenue Q Band, conducted offstage by Musical Director Christopher A. Tomasino. I usually find that live music drowns the dialogue of the actors, but I encountered no such problem at this show—Sound Designers David Correia and David Hale ensured perfect clarity. Costume Designers Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley dress the puppeteers in neutral shades, with the hope that your focus is drawn to the puppets instead of the hilariously expressive actors (a futile challenge), and the non-puppet-carrying actors in casual attire that carries a hint of humorous political incorrectness.
A fresh college graduate, the eagerly optimistic Princeton (Sean Garcia) finds himself on the block of Avenue Q, where his new neighbors seem far more bitter and jaded, shown in the song “It Sucks to be Me.” Princeton finds himself fitting in more and more with the disillusioned bunch when faced with issues such as piling bills, lackluster job opportunities, and a complicated romance with Kate Monster (Kristina Hopkins). Princeton finds that his drive to find his “purpose” in life is dwindling. However, despite the exhaustion of everyday life, the group does have one thing of value—each other.
The songs in this production span the emotional spectrum. “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” laments about the pain of heartbreak, and the nostalgic “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” harkens for a simpler time. However, for the most part, the songs are downright, deliciously crude, including “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn.” These songs are paired with dynamic vocals by the ensemble, as well as hysterical and brave performances. Stephanie Gaia Chu is particularly hilarious as Christmas Eve, a stereotypical Asian woman who orders her fiancé Brian (James Hotsko Jr.) around the stage with ‘an invisible’ leash. Matt Liptak shows a great range of cartoonish voices for his furry companions Nicky, Trekkie, and Bad Idea Bear, and with such enthusiasm that it’s hard to focus your attention on the puppets instead of the man operating them.
Instead of censoring the messier parts of life, Avenue Q revels in it with a playful attitude that is infectious! Not for the ‘G Rated’ at heart, this hilarious musical sent some gasps throughout the audience, with awed whispers of “Did they just…?” Yes, they did. Puppets on stripper poles, puppets playing drinking games, puppets…well, I won’t ruin the shock value with more details.
For a night full of laughter, I highly recommend you find your way to The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s fabulous production of Avenue Q!
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Avenue Q plays through August 17, 2013 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call (703) 683-0496, or purchase them online.