Theater Review: ‘Avenue Q’ clever, funny at Pa. Playhouse
Somewhere along the way from “Sesame Street” to The Muppets, there’s a musical neighborhood called “Avenue Q,” where humans and puppets struggle to find their purposes in life.
While normally residing in New York City, from now through Aug. 11, the locals of “Avenue Q” are bringing their joyful songs, personal struggles and hysterical antics to the stage of The Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem.
Their visit is being directed by Clair M. Freeman. The 11 fuzzy-headed puppets who make up most of the cast have a lot to teach humans about growing up and becoming better adults. Freeman’s handling of the visitors and their business on stage is an example of what it takes to produce an exceptional theater experience.
It begins with picking a show that is a triple-crown Tony winner for musical, book and score. “Avenue Q,” an adult parody of “Sesame Street,” the PBS children’s television show, was conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, both of whom who also wrote the music and lyrics. The book is by Jeff Whitty. The original production opened in 2003 and ran until 2009 on Broadway.
Freeman selected a human cast of fine actor-singers, who also as visible puppeteers mirror and manipulate their alter egos so deftly that the cloth characters become almost real. The puppeteer-puppet cast members in the July 26 performance seen for this review include: Sebastian Paff (Princeton), Lexi Rastelli (Kate Monster), Alessandra Fanelli (Lucy the Slut), Christopher Camargo (Trekki Monster), Jonathan Riker (Rod), Joemichael Luciano (Nicky), Nikola Georgievski and Meghan Moore (Bad Idea Bears) and Jeanie Olah (Mrs. Thistlewat).
The puppets were designed and built by original cast member Rick Lyons and are rented to North American productions.
The three all-human cast members also play important roles in the “more affordable” Q neighborhood, and provide a welcome contrast to the puppets.
Christina Concillio has a nice sense of comic timing as Japanese therapist Christmas Eve, with her high-pitched outbursts
Her laid-back fiancé Brian is played convincingly by Jesse Nitchkey, who lends his commanding singing voice to “It Sucks To Be Me” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”
Catina Gordon is ideal as building superintendent Gary Coleman, named after the actor who played Arnold Jackson in the 1980s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes.” Gordon shines in her “Schadenfreude” duet with the puppet Nicky.
In addition to its talented on-stage people and puppets, the success of the “Avenue Q” on-stage visit depends on the Pennsylvania Playhouse’s formidable technical crew: music director Brian Foley, choreographer Joanellyn Schubert and set and lighting director Brett Oliveira.
“Avenue Q” is a puppet show for adults, with adult themes and language. The cloth characters may be puppets, but they are no dummies. They know the facts of life and aren’t afraid to live it and sing about it. There is puppet nudity, and songs about racism and the internet being for porn, but somehow being puppets, they are able to get away with it.
All you really need to know is that “Avenue Q” is one of the cleverest and most hysterically-funny theatrical neighborhoods you probably will ever visit.
Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-1192