Triple A. It’s better than an A plus. Amazing. Astonishing. Astounding. Stages at Camden Community College’s production of AVENUE Q brings you back to a time when everyone in the audience is exactly at the same place. In front of you are apartments and a street–Avenue Q–to be exact. It’s the place where children and monsters (puppets) go after they have learned that they are “special” and “can do anything.” That’s right. I said, “after.” That would be were Sesame Street left off. The children and monsters (puppets) have reached puberty, have gone to college or not, and have found the real world is full of disappointments and empty places.
The story begins with a newbie named Princeton who comes to Avenue Q after discovering that he lacks a purpose in life. He learns from his neighbors, a mixture of humans, monsters, and puppets, that he’s not alone–that everyone has their own problems to figure out. Even though it is an adult world, it is on the edge of reality; it is still a world where humans and monsters (and, in this case, puppets) co-exist.
Gary Coleman, the celebrity, is the poster child, representing the “special” and “can do anything” as a kid who ends up here on Avenue Q managing these apartments. “Gary” was played to the hilt by Danielle Harley-Scott. His message is as if to say, “It’s normal to set high goals and to have a purpose; however, many never achieve their goals or their purpose.” Basically, go easy on yourself. It’s a reality check.
The puppets are not creepy-like-clowns puppets, but more like Sesame Street-style puppets. So, in addition to adult characters who have interesting stories to tell and sing about, you have characters who are puppets. Strangely enough, the human puppeteers are right in front of you, but eventually you don’t notice them much at all.
I was amazed at the puppetry–at how fast I suspended my disbelief and accepted the puppets alongside actors as characters while ignoring the ones who worked the puppets. I was astonished at actors who managed the characters, talking and singing for two puppets that I could swear someone had put mics on the puppets. I was astounded that two actors could work one puppet as smoothly and as one, while I ignored the two actors and accepted the puppet character.
But all this didn’t make me feel silly. Not at all. Not like a grown-up watching a puppet show. Something more meaningful. It made feel “special”–seriously–“in-the-experiencing-theatre-magic-special.” It was the same magic anyone would feel anytime the current rules of traditional theatre were bent, stretched or even broken. I love that feeling.
Stages’ production of AVENUE Q was well done on so many levels, but the original show has to be credited with that original idea. To be sure, it smacks of Sesame Street and it is true that some of the people putting the original show together did come from there. You can see the influence. Granted. However, theatre is a different medium than television. In television or film, we were not seeing the puppeteer; here we are. To work, the show has to grip us so tightly that we suspend our disbelief. And it does.
This particular show sold out all nights before it opened. I think its reputation preceded it.
First, came Sesame Street, then puberty, then Avenue Q. I thought, “Gee, this is kind of mature, but my kids get this kind of humor…” (I had debated about bringing one.) Then, suddenly, it was X-rated and I saw puppets doing things on stage one should never see puppets doing on stage, so no kids. That was just Act I. Overall, the singing and acting were great. Music direction and the band were wonderful.
The songs and music are compelling. Most definitely, there are hummable tunes, if not repeatable in front of children.
Stages’ AVENUE Q definitely has a lot of heart and all the characters seem to have more meaningful lives at the end–except for the puppeteers, maybe. The lighting, sound and the extra media worked well, too. If I had a negative thing to say about opening night, it would be…glue stuff better on the set. It’s opening night. It happens. It’s forgivable. The extra effects on stage that didn’t work? If it screws up once, throw it out. Works perfect, leave it in. Except for the actors.
Everyone is to be commended for all the hard work they had to do back stage as well as out front. I can only imagine the costume changes and repositioning of the puppets (something I hadn’t thought of until the talk back). Making all this happen on the smaller stage is a tribute to STAGES at CCC’s director, Marjorie Sokoloff, who tends to get the unthinkable done on her stage.
I have pretty much seen everyone in this cast before, and they are always on the mark. In fact, the only one I haven’t seen before is Kaitlyn Piocharski who did a great job playing “Christmas Eve.” Matt Reher is truly one of the hardest working and most humble actors I’ve known, and his performance here with two completely different character voices, very often in two different places, blew me away. Maria Panvini, the same thing–she gave “Kate Monster” and “Lucy” believable puppet lives. Really? Did I just say that? Make that character lives. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, just because I didn’t mention your name doesn’t mean I didn’t notice you. STAGES at Camden Community College’s production of AVENUE Q was terrific all around.
AVENUE Q The Musical
Book by Jeff Whitty
Music and Lyrics by
Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx
Directed by Marjorie Sokoloff
May 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 2013 at 8pm
May 5, 2013 at 3pm
STAGES at Camden County College
311 College Drive
Blackwood, NJ 08012