Stroll down gritty, joyful ‘Avenue Q’ 

click to enlarge Avenue Q
  • Clockwise from top left, Zac Schuman, Will Giammona, Sam Jackson, Stephanie Temple, Christopher Morrell and Millie DeBenedet are excellent in “Avenue Q.”
Ten years after snatching Tony Awards for best musical, book and score, “Avenue Q” has become New Conservatory Theatre Center’s latest trans-continental success.

The quirky show – in which humans and puppets share the stage, 21st century stereotypes and cultural archetypes reign, and fur flies in ways that would make a church lady blush – is as fresh and delightful as the day on which its polyester seedlings first took form.

Set on the lowest possible avenue on New York’s Lower East Side, “Avenue Q” covers all bases with its curious mix of characters – black, white and Asian, gay and straight, Jewish and gentile, starving student and prematurely grounded Hollywood star, social worker and slut.

The characters, including the Chinese Christmas Eve, Mrs. Thistletwat, Princeton and Lucy the Slut for starters – and the songs (with titles such as “It Sucks to Be Me,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet is for Porn” and “There’s a Fine, Fine Line”) suggest that just about every line, fine or not, will be crossed somewhere or another in two acts.

Director Dennis Lickteig, music director Ben Prince, puppet director Allison Daniel and orchestrator-arranger Stephen Oremus make the most of the material by Jeff Whitty (book), Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon”) and Jeff Marx (music, lyrics and original concept).

Casting director Lori Fowler’s marvelous young players amplify the joy. Portraying humans are Teresa Attridge as Christmas Eve, Sam Jackson as Gary Coleman and Zac Schuman as Brian.

The puppeteers include Millie DeBenedet as Mrs. Thistletwat, Will Giammona as Princeton and Rod, Christopher Morrell as Nicky and Trekkie and Stephanie Temple as Kate and Lucy.

It would be easy to approach the story cynically, or to finish it with a snarky edge. Instead, cast and crew imbue it with such openhearted, quasi-naive sincerity that virtually every vestige of political correctness cedes to its silliness.

Of the puppeteers, Giammona seems a bit more intent on registering his handsome face rather than that of his puppet alter-egos, and DeBenedet could have better complemented the expressions of superb co-puppeteer Morrell, rather than default to blank face while he did the talking and singing.

Still, considering the stupefying number of puppet voices and accents each and every cast member produces, as well as their execution of Rory Davis’ winning choreography, this “Avenue Q” is a bona-fide hit. Only the Grinch could possibly prevent the laughter-filled show from selling out night after night.

REVIEW

Avenue Q

Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 12

Price: $25 to $45

Tickets: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

About The Author

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus

Bio:
Jason Victor Serinus is a music and high performance audio critic, whistler, and lecturer on opera and vocal recordings. He is editor of Psychoimmunity and the Healing Process: A Holistic Approach to Immunity & AIDS. In addition to writing for the San Francisco Examiner, he has written about music for Opera News,... more
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