The Jefferson Performing Arts Society can never be accused of being squeaky clean. Its artistic director, Dennis Assaf, has provided lots of opportunities for children's shows that are PG-rated and appropriate for all ages. The recent run that began at the Jefferson Performing Arts Auditorium at East Jefferson High School ended this past weekend at the North Star Theater in Covington.
While it is true fans of Avenue Q may see similarities to PBS's Sesame Street, the adult subject matter, profanity and inappropriate situations are definitely not intended for children. This was adult fare and quite funny, but not at all appropriate for anyone under teen age (and maybe not even then).
Avenue Q was directed by "Uncle" Wayne Daigrepont with outstanding performances by the eight cast members, five of whom worked single and double rod character puppets while on stage. Singing on pitch, remembering blocking and choreography while manipulating rods or maneuvering a hand puppet is enough to give even the bravest of actors pause, but the cast of Avenue Q more than stood up to the challenge. The Tony Award winning show with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty won honors for Best Score, Best Book and Best Musical.
The cast was led by Scott Sauber, who played Princeton, a recent college graduate looking for a place to live and to find meaning to his life. Princeton ends up on Avenue Q, where he meets a number of other characters fighting racism, poverty and homelessness. The versatile actor was at the top of his craft in this piece with a sweet innocence that quickly gave way to an adult sexual yearning for a mate in Kate Monster, played by Katie Bourg. Princeton and Kate Monster have their troubled relationship, but so do Brian, an out-of-work stand-up comic, played by Bryce Turgeon, and Christmas Eve, his Japanese-American wife, played by Anna Toujas. The difficulties they face are recounted in the songs like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "It Sucks to be Me." They are joined by former TV child star Gary Coleman, who is miraculously still alive (he was when the show was originally written for the Broadway stage), played by Whitney Mixon.
The other puppet figures of Nicky and Rod were played by Dwayne Sepcich and Robert Facio, whose relationship as roommates is put to the test when Nicky suspects Rod is a closeted gay. He sings of his suspicion in the song "If You Were Gay," which causes Rod to examine his true feelings for Nicky. Facio also played Trekkie Monster, a curmudgeon who passes the time away as a purveyor of pornography. Allee Peck rounded out the cast as Lucy the Slut, who makes a play for Princeton when he is on the outs with Kate Monster. Peck and Sepcich also took turns playing the Bad Idea Bears, whose counseling on topics like suicide and drug abuse defies conventional wisdom or professional care.
Avenue Q had some wonderful songs of social relevance including Toujas' rendition of "The More You Ruv Someone" and ensemble renditions of "There Is Life Outside Your Apartment" and "The Internet Is for Porn."
Daigrepont's direction and the creative puppetry made Avenue Q a real joy for theatre patrons, albeit adults only. A national tour of the show made its way to New Orleans two years ago, but this was the first time the show ran as part of a local production company. The puppets and graphics were made by original Broadway cast member Rick Lyon. His company, Lyon Puppets, now rents the puppets to local productions as part of a package. Both the puppets and the spoof videos enhanced the show immensely. Both Assaf and Daigrepont should be congratulated on taking a chance on this very funny show and not attempting to cut costs along the way.