The cast of the Golden Apple's Avenue Q.
It’s always kind of exciting--for performers and audiences alike--when a theater takes a step outside its comfort zone, producing a show that breaks precedent in a daring way. It’s even better when the show is lots of fun.
That’s the case with the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s current show, Avenue Q. Although the show is not really all that subversive--it won the Tony when it bowed on Broadway, and it’s actually pretty conventional in its themes of young people starting out in the world and exploring the bonds of love and friendship--it does go some places the Apple doesn’t usually go, in terms of language, sexual frankness, and oh, yes, those Sesame Street-like--but frequently very adult--puppets.
In case you haven’t seen Avenue Q before, it centers on a certain low-rent area of New York where recent college grad Princeton (Berry Ayers) has come to live, since he can’t afford anything else with his B.A. in English. There he meets a motley assortment of fellow down-on-their-luckers: Kate Monster (Dianne Dawson), a good-girl kindergarten assistant; Rod (Ayers again) and Nicky (Steve Dawson), roommates bearing a suspicious resemblance to Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie; Brian (Erik Emmerson), a would-be comedian, and his Japanese fiancee Christmas Eve (Jenn Abreu), a would-be therapist; Trekkie Monster (Steve Dawson again), who hides in his room and watches porn; and the super of the building where they all live, Gary Coleman (Ariel Blue)--yes, that Gary Coleman of Diff’rent Strokes fame.
Naturally, Princeton and Kate are drawn together, despite their differences--she being a monster and all. But there are obstacles here as in every other relationship of the show, the main one being Lucy the Slut (Dianne Dawson again, aided by puppeteer Alex Torres), whose vampish persona overwhelms the naive Princeton.
It’s all cleverly presented by director Kyle Ennis Turoff, based on the original production, on a set by Michael Newton-Brown that manages to transform the smallish Apple stage into that rundown yet somehow cheery tenement. Aided by some animated clips, entertaining songs (It Sucks to Be Me, If You Were Gay, The Internet Is For Porn) and a cast that’s worked hard to become at ease with their characters and their puppets, Avenue Q hits the mark.
It’s difficult to really single out any cast members when they all perform so well together, but I will mention Ayers and the Dawsons, who all switch smoothly back and forth between dual characters, and Abreu, who gets laughs with her aggressive Asian ways. Really, though, everyone is doing good work here. And, based on the night I attended, Avenue Q looks as if it is drawing some new and different audience members to the downtown theater. That’s a plus for everyone.
Avenue Q continues through April 10; call 366-5454 or go to thegoldenapple.com for tickets. (And if you're looking for even more about the Golden Apple, be sure to read Bob Plunket's day-in-the-life story about his turn in the Golden Apple's production of Evita, here.)