I Wish I Could Go Back To College…

…for life was much simpler back then.

This musing is brought to you, of course, by the letter Q, as in Avenue Q, the musical we saw today at the Ahmanson Theatre. Avenue Q, for those who haven’t seen it, is a musical with puppets that is definately not for the little kiddies. This is no Flahooley, folks. Avenue Q is the story of Princeton, a freshly-minted BA in English, who is trying to find his Purpose in life. However, life is proving to be much harder than he expected… with jobs, housing, personal problems, and all the other aspects of daily life that frustrate us. Can we go back to college yet?

Along the way, we meet the cast of characters that inhabit the block of Avenue Q that is affordable by Princeton: Kate Monster, a kindergarten TA; Brian, an out-of work comedian; Christmas Eve, Brian’s fiancee and an unsuccessful therapist; Rod, a closeted gay Republican investment banker; Nickey, Rod’s roommate; Gary, the superintendent; and Trekkie Monster, an, ummm, Internet entrepreneur and all-around pervert. Note that some of these are puppets, some of these are real people, and some bear a close resemblence to Sesame Street characters, but not close enough for a lawsuit. All have relationship trouble of some form, just like in real-life. All of them also have the “Bad Idea Bears” whispering bad ideas into their heads that they listen too. In other words: the story mirrors real life, which is why it has been so successful, going on to win a Tony Award in 1994 2004, as well as winning the hearts and minds of the Internet generation. Porn has nothing to do with it. Yeah, right.

The production at the Ahmanson was excellent. It is hard to match performers with the physical characters, as often the actual puppet manipulation was swapped between actors. But let’s try to name names anyway, based on the characters played or voiced. In the lead was Robert McClure, who voiced Princeton and Rod. McClure had a strong singing voice and made the puppets come to life, although he was occasionally off on his synching of the puppet with the words. Even stronger was the female lead, Kelli Sawyer, who voiced Kate Monster, Lucy T. Slut, and other characters. She had an extremely strong singing voice (especially in the torch songs), and I hope she goes far. Rounding out the major puppet vocals was Christian Anderson as Nicky, Trekkie Monster, and one of the bad-idea bears. His “Ernie” voice was dead on, and his Trekkie was raw (as it should be). The last puppet vocalist was Minglie Chen, who played Mrs. Thistletwat, a bad-idea bear, and assisted with puppet manipulation. She really didn’t speak much.

Turning to the human characters, we had Cole Porter (no, not the composer, he’s dead) as Brian; Angela Ai as Christmas Eve, and Carla Renata as Gary Coleman. All were strong; I was particularly taken by the comic stylings of Ms. Ai (and her voice during her one big song), as well as the singing voice of Ms. Renata. The ensemble consisted of Maggie Lakis, Seth Rettberg, and Danielle K. Thomas.

Turning to production information: Avenue Q has music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, with a book by Jeff Whitty based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Puppets were conceived and designed by Rick Lyon. Scenic design was by Anna Louizon; Costumes by Mirena Rada; Lighting by Howell Binkley; Sound by Acme Sound Partners. The animation was by Robert Lopez (the co-composer/lyricist), and brought back memories of days watching Sesame Street, especially come+mittment. Musical drection was by Andrew Graham, with supervision and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus. The production was directed by Jason Moore, with technical direction by Brian Lynch, and stage management by Marian DeWitt. Overall, this was a production of the Center Theatre Group, Michael Ritchie artistic director.

Avenue Q runs through October 14, 2007. I believe that discounted tickets are available through Goldstar Events as well as Hottix.

By the way, at the end of Avenue Q, Princeton believes that his purpose is to put on a show about how to get through life, thus being self-referential. I can think of two other shows that were similarly self-referential: A Class Act, where Ed Kleban’s dying wish was that his songs be assembled into a show and presented in a large dark room, preferably in the center part of town, in front of a bunch of people, all of whom have paid a great deal to come in. The other show is Curtains, where the opening songs makes reference to a lawman from the east who came into to save the show.

Dining Notes: Before the show, we did a dim-sum run to Empress Pavillion in Chinatown. We need to remember that my favorite, the BBQ Pork, doesn’t come out until 11am (together with goodies like the meats and the turnip cakes), although there are goodies like juk and lemon tarts and greaseballs, oops, jin dui, available. Also, it doesn’t appear that crowded on Saturday.

Dining Note 2: Dinner was at Carnival, a Lebanese restaraunt in Sherman Oaks. This place is yummy, with good lentil soup. I was less impressed with their hummas, although the kebabs we had were quite tasty.

So, Mr. Wizard, what’s next on the theatre calendar? “Matter of Honor” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 9/22 @ 8:00pm; “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” at REP East on 10/6 @ 8:00pm; “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center on 10/13 @ 8:00pm; and “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 11/3 @ 2:00pm.