Review: ‘Avenue Q-School Edition’ at Fairfax High School

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Avenue Q is not your mother’s musical. Sure, the muppets might seem cute, but once they start singing you’ll see that they’re just as messed up as most people. Fairfax High School’s FX Players introduced audiences to Avenue Q, a Sesame Street-esque strip filled with colorful characters and catchy songs.

Avenue Q is the brainchild of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Together they wrote the music and lyrics and teamed up with Jeff Whitty who wrote the book. Avenue Q opened on Broadway in 2003 and ran for over 2,000 performances. The show was nominated for six Tony Awards and won three including Best Musical. It satires the anxieties that come from entering adulthood. Avenue Q is best known for incorporation of both rod and live-hand puppets operated by the actor and unconcealed puppeteers.

15073284_406790873042851_7760904503356937468_nThe technical elements of Fairfax’s production were superb. The bright, multilevel set, expertly designed by Thomas Iodice, provided a fun environment  for the actors to work with and for the audience to enjoy. The lighting by Jonathan Pepin complimented the scene and featured a number of vibrant colors. Stage Managers, Trevion Walker and Kira Kerr, ensured that scene changes were performed smoothly and in a manner of seconds. The sound, by Sara Young, was near flawless. Not once did the energy of the band, lead by Andy Schuller, overpower the actors. Lastly, the costume design by Emma Dabolt was impeccable. Every puppeteer was outfitted in an all black ensemble that fit their puppet’s character.

Working with puppets brings a new element into the mix. The FX Players took to the challenge and nailed it. Especially commendable is the work of Ian Kirkland who played Rod. Kirkland and his puppet moved as one. When Rod turned his head, so did Kirkland. Their synchronicity, on top of Kirkland’s comedic ability, made his performance a highlight of the night.

The musical starts with Princeton, played by Kyle Huott, arriving at Avenue Q. He’s just graduated and is uncertain of his purpose in life (What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?). He rents an apartment from former child star, Gary Coleman, and is introduced to the rest of the tenants including the perpetually single Kate Monster (Josie Morgan), a kindergarten assistant who dreams of opening a school for monsters. Huott’s earnest portrayal of Princeton was strikingly realistic. His tender vocals were well-suited for numbers like “Purpose.” Opposite him, Josie Morgan’s lovable performance as Kate was one of the show. Morgan’s sweet disposition made Kate a character the audience couldn’t help but root for. They rooted for her even more when she stood up for herself and told off her boss, Mrs. Butz, played by Sierra Hoffman in a hilarious cameo. Morgan showed off her gorgeous voice in the heart wrenching Act I finale, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”

In an ode to Bert and Ernie, Rod and Nicky are two roommates with starkly contrasting personalities. Rod, played by Ian Kirkland, is a closeted, Republican banker who is secretly in love with his slacker roommate, Nicky. Kirkland perfectly embodies Rod’s neurotic nature in the emotional, “Fantasies Come True.” Zion Jang does a spot-on Ernie impression in his performance as Nicky. He and Gary’s hysterical number, “Schadenfreude,” had the audiences in stitches. Freshman Densmore Bartly was a riot as Gary Coleman. Bartly’s stunning vocals stood out in company numbers.

This show would not be complete without the fantastic characters. Julie Kovach was a hoot as the temptress, Lucy. Her sultry rendition of “Special” brought down the house.

In a scene stealing performance, Diana Park played Christmas Eve, a tell-it-how-it-is, Japanese therapist. Her number, “The More You Ruv Someone,” opposite Kate Monster, was outstanding.

Eddie Zakreski did an exaggerated monster voice perfectly suited for the socially awkward, Trekkie Monster. His duet with Kate, “My Social Life is Online,” was especially amusing.

The cast of Fairfax’s Avenue Q fed off one another’s energy and came together. The company did their best work in ensemble numbers like “It Sucks to Be Me,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.” The showstopping finale, “For Now,” was a welcome reminder that all of the hardships in life are only temporary.

If you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud, heartwarming musical, take a trip to Avenue Q at Fairfax High School. You’ll be glad you did.

Recommended for audiences age 13 and older.

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Avenue Q plays through December 4, 2016 at Fairfax High School – 3501 Rebel Run in Fairfax, VA. For tickets, bu them at the door, or purchase them online.

The review is written by Kelsey Loesch.