BERKELEY PLAYHOUSE OPENS SEASON EIGHT WITH "AVENUE Q"
“There’s a fine, fine line between a fairy tale and a lie”
AVENUE Q BRINGS THE NAUGHTY FAIRY TALE TO THE JULIA MORGAN STAGE. IT IS EXCELLENT!
The Berkeley Playhouse opens its eighth season with the naughty AVENUE Q. Opening the family friendly stage to adult theme theatre. It is a departure for this Berkeley company and a fresh way to begin their new season. Founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy, says about the move to more adult themes, “Our family series and core educational programming will continue exactly as it has for eight years. We are still providing four professional shows for families to come to. Berkeley Playhouse is unique in that half of the company is rooted in education and half is rooted in professional. “Avenue Q is the perfect show to begin our expanded programming. It’s about adult issues and relationships, and the use of puppets is a sly wink to the work we’ve been doing these past eight years.” Producing Artistic Director Daren Carollo was a bit worried about ticket sales for this season, but says “ Families are buying tickets as always and purchasing the family pack that includes the family show and more”. He says their sales are at 80 persent for AVENUE Q.
“Avenue Q” is now 12 years old and scored Tony Awards for best musical, book and score for its team Robert Lopez (Book of Mormon), Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty. The show has been produced on a number of Bay Area stages the past few years, but what director Danny Cozart brings to Berkeley is the original Broadway version including the smaller cast and use of the actors doubling for a few of the puppets.
Even if you have seen this show in the past this colorful story holds up the more you see it. Also perfect on the Julia morgan stage is the clever set design by Mark Thomas, it is a richer more realistic village than you get in most versions. Based on an R rated version of Sesame Street, where live actors and puppets share the stage, the characters search for “Purpose ” and meaning “It sucks to be me” is the theme of the opening number. Stereotypes all take stage from Gay to Gary Coleman, and it is all fun and clever, and at times very blue.
The setting on the lowest of New York's east side, the “Q” is a clash of all fears and issues, Monsters dating humans, Whites, blacks, gays, starving students and failed Hollywood stars and sluts. This cast is perfect for this fun headed by Kevin Singer, who plays Princeton and Rod. Singer with no pun in mind, has an incredible voice and it is hard not watch him work his magic with this two lead puppets.
Its great to see a company of talent that can manage twice as many Muppet fun characters in such a fast paced show. The colorful puppets do win all the attention on stage, mixed in with the actors who are costumed by Tammy Berlin just as colorful as the Muppet cast. Berlin does keep it simple for the puppeteers, black attire but still very casual and different for each actor. Actor and musician Cozart makes his debut as a director and brings some new edges to the show, including a more racy sex moment with Princeton and Kate Monster. It is wild that this Avenue does have the cute appearance of a kids show, but the lines fly “I can tell just by looking that you've got it hard for me, Grab your dick and double click” - and we know it’s classic Robert Lopez.
The story deals with recent college grad Princeton who is looking for job and purpose, lands on Avenue Q. He meets some new friends including Kate Monster who is a teacher's aide, and other puppets and human characters including Rod, the closeted gay and his loving roommate, Nicky, sexy singer Lucy, teacher boss Mrs.Thistletwat, and porn addict Trekkie Monster. Gary Colman, Christmas Eve and Brian are the live actors that balance out the story and puppets. Singer does a superb job juggling two puppet roles -- Princeton and Rod. He creates different voices and personalities and speaks for both while in the same scene. The talented Branden Thomas does the same with his puppets Nicky, Trekkie, and one of the Bad Idea Bears. Thomas has the perfect voice for the very naughty masterbating Trekkie, then tones it down for sweet charming Nicky.
Andrea Dennison Laufer plays both Kate Monster, and the sassy slut Lucy. Laufer is a powerhouse as Lucy and very sweet and strong as Kate. She has an excellent voice and it is hard not to watch as she puppeteers her two strong female characters. When the two ladies toss it up on stage, Laufer is excellent voicing both sides of the dialogue. The Bad Idea Bears who set up the other puppets to be naughty, are cleverly played by Hayley Nystrom and Thomas who adds a third voice to his busy performance. The humans on stage are camp at times but comic timing and humor is wonderful. Isaiah Boyd commands the Avenue as the lost child actor Gary Coleman, he has the moves and smirk that Coleman was famous for. Catherine Gloria is hilarious as Christmas Eve, and her solo "The More You Ruv Someone” is as camp FOB stereotyped as you can get. Local favorite Brian Watson completes the cast as her groom to be “Brian” and wanna-be comedian. The song list covers all the corners of grown up pain and search for meaning, “If You Were Gay” and “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” and my favorite “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada”.
The production team is on course with the talents of Erik Scanlon’s clever projections, that tell a story of their own. The visual clips reflect some of that Sesame street flair, but Scanlon adds some new touches to the original film posters and subtext to the characters and puppets back story. The puppet cast was provided by Art Grueneberger Theatre Company, they don’t over steal any scene, as Singer, Laufer and Thomas are show stoppers on their own. Music Director Michael Patrick has a tight four piece pit that fills the Julia Morgan and the two hour show is non stop songs and gags that all work. Including the x rated sex scene with Princeton and Kate “You Can Be Loud As The Hell You Want (When You Are Making Love) a highlight of the first act.
Since it founding back in 2008, The Berkeley Playhouse has been the go to stage for family theatre and a great educational experience for students enrolled in their stage camps. This new season still brings that home, but now with a window for expanded plays and musicals that reach out to an older adult audience. The kids can still join in as the company provides child care and fun workshops during performances. The season opener AVENUE Q - as naughty as it can get, is also very touching and true to human faults. “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” covers it all and keep us in line for its honesty, and of course it is a hilarious song. Join the fun at AVENUE Q, it runs through Oct 11th and it is a perfect way to open your fall theatre season. See it more than once, and follow the links below to see the full season at The Berkeley Playhouse.
Berkeley Playhouse Presents
By Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty,
Directed by Danny Cozart, Music Director Michael Patrick,
Producer Daren Carollo
Sept 18 - Oct. 11
Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission
Tickets: $23-$60; 510-845-8542 x351
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio.