Avenue Q School Edition, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and book by Jeff Whitty, is currently playing on the stage at West Potomac High School. West Potomac’s Beyond the Page Theatre Company brings Lopez and Marx’s edgy, witty score to life with its effortless puppet movements and excellent execution of the songs from the popular Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. Directed and choreographed by Phillip Lee Clark, with musical direction by Cathy Manley, Avenue Q School Edition left me laughing along with the audience at the comical script, and humming along to the musical’s infectiously catchy songs.
Princeton (David Jarzen), a recent college graduate with a useless B.A. in English, finds himself on Avenue Q looking for an apartment. Princeton meets his new neighbors, one of whom is child star Gary Coleman. A neighboring married couple, Brian (Peter Serle) and Christmas Eve (Nikki Amico), introduce Princeton to Kate Monster (Lizzy Rader). Princeton explains he is on a mission to find his ‘purpose’ in life and Kate shares with him that she wants to open a special school just for monsters, and their friendship develops. Avenue Q School Edition highlights the harsh realities of the adult world and how things won’t always turn out the way they are planned.
The talented cast of Avenue Q School Edition included both people and puppets. The puppeted actors performed without missing a beat with their puppets. The actors’ voices and their puppets’ mouths were in perfect sync, and whenever a non-puppet character was talking to a puppet, the actor never failed to maintain eye contact with the puppet, and not the puppeteer.
Musical Director and keyboardist Cathy Manley and drummer Kendell Haywood performed the show’s musical score flawlessly. Most of the actors had fine diction, especially Christmas Eve (Amico) and Trekkie Monster (Sam Rainey). Amico’s Japanese accent for Christmas Eve could be heard clearly in her speaking lines and in her song like the outrageous “The More You Ruv Someone,” as well as the songs she sang with the Company, including “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “It Sucks to Be Me.”
Director/Choreographer Philip Lee Clark also designed the effective set, with Margaret Gorguissian providing the props design, which was built by Master Builders Ella Moore, Natalie Jurkowski, and Brittany Dale. Sarah Bowman’s lighting design and the set’s backlighting enhanced the mood of each scene. Video design by Dan Evans, Alex Toone, and Austin Loan explained word definitions that were a part of the story. The videos also served as the show’s omnipotent narrator, much like the one heard on a well-known popular children’s television show that also has puppets living on its street. Lesya Melenchencko and her assistant Becky Lehner designed the colorful costumes. The crisp sound was provided by Sound Designer Gracie Denton.
I enjoyed Serle’s performance of “I’m Not Wearing Any Underwear Today,” which was a brief moment of physical comedy fun. The Bad Idea Bears (the hysterical Dan Evans, Emma Norville, and Frankie Mananzano) also provided a great deal of comic relief, moving the show along as they pushed characters to do things out of their comfort zone, much like that of the real world. Emily Carbone, as Lucy, equipped with red boas and hair flips, was unforgettable, and her haughty and attitude-filled performance of the song “Special” was one of the show’s highlights, ending with Carbone performing a jaw-dropping split.
The songs “It Sucks To Be Me,” “If You Were Gay,” and “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” were crowd favorites, with their simple dance steps combined with puppet movements. “It Sucks To Be Me,” sung by the company, opened the first act and set the bar high for the rest of the production. “If You Were Gay,” sung delightfully by Nicky (Ben Roberts) and Rod (Eddie Perez), and “Mix Tape,” sung by Princeton (David Jarzen) and Kate Monster (Lizzy Rader), set the bar even higher. They were the most touching performances of the show, with each song featuring two puppeted cast members singing about their relationships with each other.
During the second act, the show’s company walked through the audience while singing “The Money Song,” holding out hats to collect money for Smile Train, a charity which raises awareness and money for cleft palate surgeries. Money collected from “The Money Song” during all performances of West Potomac’s Avenue Q School Edition will be donated to Smile Train.
All humans and monsters will enjoy West Potomac High School’s superb laugh-filled production of Avenue Q School Edition. So come on down to Avenue Q. You might even find your purpose.
Running Time: Two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Please note: The show has mature themes and dialogue, and is rated PG-13.