By Joanna Brady
Avenue Q, now playing at Waterfront Playhouse, is adult entertainment (age 16+) combining the sweetness and disillusionment of youth with the exuberance of raunchy energy.
A smash hit on Broadway, the award-winning musical was conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, (music and lyrics), collaborating with Jeff Whitty (book). It won Tony awards for best musical, best score and best book.
The play parodies Sesame Street, the PBS show that teaches kids to feel “special.” But as these actor/puppets learn, even as they clutch college diplomas, they’re no more special than anyone else in the real world (“What do you do with a B.A. in English?”) and they feel depressed about it. (“It sucks to be me”). Options are limited, and they have to find their purpose in life, even as they yearn for the carefree days of college. (“I wish I could go back to college”). Spoiler alert: They do figure out by the end of the play that while self-reflection is good, self-absorption is not. Problems are temporary and life goes on. It’s by doing for other people that inner growth takes place and their purpose can be achieved (“For now”).
Part of the charm of the play is that it’s presented in simple Sesame speak while probing complicated adult problems, like coming out of the closet (“If you were gay”), porn on the Internet, racism, schadenfreude, and the fine line between friendship and sex.
Puppeteering in this play is unique. Since audiences are used to having the person behind puppets hidden, the sight of real actors operating the mechanisms on stage is a surprise. Once you realize it’s the puppets you should be watching, the critters take on a life of their own and you ignore the real people dressed in black.
Full credit goes to the genius of director Danny Weathers to recognize that the talent to stage this production is alive and well in Key West. Teamed with TSKW board member Stephen Kitsakos and Jason Jacoby from the New York cast who conducted puppet training, terrific actors were chosen to play and learn to operate the fuzzy puppets.
The puppeteers are Brian Hall (Princeton), Kristen Michelle (Kate)— these two are brilliant during the seduction and tryst between the two main characters—talented Susannah Wells, and Jeremy Zoma, who operate several other puppets between them. Lora Nicolas, (Christmas Eve) Juanita B. Green (who plays Gary Coleman) and Justin Ahearn (Brian) sing, dance, and amuse us unencumbered by puppets.
Michael Boyer’s set is superb as a rundown block on Q Street, exquisite in every detail. Carmen Rodriguez, does a great job on costumes. The music of Michael Fauss and company is excellent.
Avenue Q is a magical tour de force, not to be missed! It’s on till March 25. All shows start at 8:00. Call the Waterfront Playhouse at 305-294-5015 for tickets. INFO waterfrontplayhouse.org