THIS IS THE 5TH YEAR FOR PRINCETON, 'AVENUE Q' BRINGS THE NAUGHTY PUPPET MIX BACK TO FIND YOUR PURPOSE
The Dickens Christmas Carol storms Regional stages all over the country as the “GO TOO” holiday show. There are five productions on stages this week here in the Bay Area, and other popular stages produce holiday theme productions. But the New Conservatory Theatre Center in SF turns the tables on the holiday spirit. For the past five years NCTC has successfully produced AVENUE Q as their “Dickens Gold” with sold out houses through January. Kate Monster and Princeton have become cash cows for the Bay Area’s popular LGBT theatre company.
Founding Artistic Director of NCTC, Ed Decker, says “Avenue Q will continue to enthrall audiences at NCTC for years to come - I like to think of this subversive musical as our secret winter weapon of mirth and mayhem standing up to bigotry and hatred. Former cast member and NCTC Director, Stephanie Temple, leads the onstage revelry this year.” Director Temple brings 14 strong actors swapping two casts that will take this season's AVENUE through January 21. It was announce before opening night that the show had already been extended. It proves the selling power of this Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx musical.
The naughty AVENUE Q millennials are now part of a 13 year history of success that 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 Temple brings to NCTC is the original Broadway version including the smaller cast and use of the actors doubling for the puppet leads. If you have caught this cast in the past years you will see some new talented faces on stage including the pitch perfect Kamren Mahaney, and the energetic Nick Rodrigues who both play our lost hero Princeton and are charming in the opening song “What Do You Do with BA in English?.” Both bring the topic of “Purpose” the classic AVENUE Q story line.
Even if you have seen this show in the past this colorful story holds up the more you see it. This is a perfect fit for the “Ed Decker Stage” with a clever set design by award winner, Kuo-Hao Lo. It is a richer more realistic village with upper access to the rooms above for the sassy Trekkie Monster. Based on an R rated version of Sesame Street, where live actors and puppets share the stage, the characters search for meaning “It Sucks to Be Me” is the theme of Act one. Stereotypes all take stage from gays to Gary Coleman, and it is all fun and clever, and at times very blue. Janelle LaSalle and Phaedra Tillery both bring the grumpy Gary Coleman the classic edge to the song “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.”
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 Rodrigues and Mahaney as Princeton and Rod. Both actors have incredible voices and it is hard not to be in awe as they both work their magic with their two lead puppets, switching voices and bringing angst to Princeton and the closeted Rod.
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 Wes Crain. They are just as colorful as the Muppet cast, but of course the main cast that works the kids are dressed in black. Actor and former Q cast member Stephanie Temple makes her debut as a director and brings some new edges to the show, including a more racy sex moment with Princeton and Kate Monster. Temple is also the choreographer and “Schadenfreude” is a highlight with Tillery and LaSalle as Gary Coleman make this number a show stopper. Tillery and LaSalle command the Avenue as the lost child actor Gary Coleman with the moves and smirk that Coleman was famous for.
Audrey Baker and Emily Serdahl both play Kate Monster, and the sassy slut, Lucy. They are a powerhouse as the female monster. When the two ladies toss it up on stage their likable grace is excellent voicing both sides of the dialogue. Trekkie Monster is played by the dynamite Brendon North and Daniel Sherman, they both bring the number “The Internet is for Porn” rocking humor and voice the sympathic Nicky. Matia Ponce and Isabel Anne To are both hilarious as Christmas Eve, and her solo "The More You Ruv Someone” is as camp FOB stereotyped as you can get. Local favorites Scott Taylor Cole and Scott DiLorenzo complete the main 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 Bad Idea Bears round out the cast and include Chelsea Carruesco, and Juliana Lustenader who also voice Kate's boss, Mrs.Thistletwat. The classic script of Lopez’ slick humour “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 Lopez and keeps the show sharp and funny. The production team is on course with the talents of Chris Daroca’s clever props that tell a story of their own with the tools of Coleman and boxes and toys for the bad bears. The bright comic book light design by Maxx Kurzunski included some moody club lighting for the cafe scene. Stage Manager Kaitlin Rosen has a number of tricky door entrances and a cast of fast pace actors that was very smooth. The visual clips reflect some of that Sesame street flair. The puppet cast under the direction of puppet repairs and makeup includes David Carver-Ford on wigs and Travis Howse on design. For this 5th year the kids had some face lifts and color repairs that makes this cast of muppets one of my favorite.
The hand puppets don’t up stage any scene, as Rodrigues, Mahaney, Sherman, Baker, Serdahl and North are show stoppers on their own. Music Director, Ben Prince, has the challenge of working with prerecorded music arranged by Stephen Oremus, that at times can upstage the action. Sound designer, James Ard does not mic the cast so they needed that perfect mix with the prerecorded music that I found distracting. The two hour show is nonstop 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 Act One.
AVENUE Q - is naughty and always fun, yet it 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, a perfect way to close your 2017 theatre season or a better way to start your 2018 as the show runs through most of January. Next up at NCTC is the World Premiere of STILL AT RISK By Tim Pinckney that opens Jan 19th and the Regional premiere of Terrence McNally’s IT'S ONLY A PLAY that opens in the spring of 2018. In the meantime discover your “Purpose” with this marvelous cast of the “Q” it is always a fun show.“There’s a fine, fine line between a fairy-tale and a lie.”
New Conservatory Theatre Center Presents
By Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty,
Directed by Stepanie Temple, Music Director Ben Prince,
Produced by Ed Decker and Robert Leone
Must Close Jan 21 2018
Ed Decker Stage
NCTC 25 Van Ness Ave SF
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission
Photos by Lois Tema.
The Purple Cast of Avenue Q plays Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances.
Features AudreyBaker (Kate Monster/Lucy), Chelsea Carruesco (Bad Idea Bear, Mrs T),Scott DiLorenzo (Brian), Maita Ponce (Christmas Eve), Nick Rodrigues (Princeton/Rod),
Daniel Sherman (Nicky/Trekkie), Phaedra Tiller (Gary Coleman).
The Orange Cast of Avenue Q plays Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday performances and stars
JanelleLaSalle (Gary Coleman), Juliana Lustenader (Bad Idea Bear, Mrs T),Kamren Mahaney (Princeton/Rod), Brendon North (Nicky/Trekkie), Isabel To (Christmas Eve), and
Scott Taylor-Cole (Brian).
The creative team of Avenue Q includes Ben Prince Music Director, Scenic Designby Kuo-Hao Lo, Costume Design by Wes Crain, Lighting Design by Maxx Kruzunski, Sound Design by James Ard, and Puppet Design by Travis Howse.
Ring-in the New Year with Avenue Q, a special New Year’s Eve performance, will be presented Sunday, December 31, 2017, complete with complimentary champagne
toast and festive early start time of 7:30pm Tickets available at nctcsf.org or by calling (415) 861-8972.