2012-03-29 / Dining & Entertainment
‘Avenue Q’ student edition better than original
In 2007, Music Theatre International announced it would be releasing a “school edition” of edgy musical “Avenue Q,” an R-rated satire of children’s television aimed at realistic issues in the lives of young adults. As with “Rent,” another show with mature themes, the possibility of a “toned-down” “ Avenue Q” was met with ridicule, scorn, and predictions that “it couldn’t be done.”
Last week marked the West Coast premiere of the Student Edition of “Avenue Q,” which was presented by Calabasas High School. For my money, not only does the show work, but it is every bit as effective as the “parent” version, possibly more so—and here’s why.
The show deals with the inhabitants of a brownstone neighborhood in New York, many of whom are Muppetstyle hand puppets, manipulated by the actors.
Princeton, just out of college, is seeking an apartment, a girlfriend and a “purpose” for his life. Kate Monster is battling racial discrimination and loneliness, while roommates Nicky and Rod are grappling with their own identities.
Unlike other student editions of musicals, the changes made to “Avenue Q” actually improved it. Much of the vulgar language in the show and the song lyrics was scrubbed clean but not defanged. Two songs had to be eliminated entirely due to coarse sexual content and drug use, and the character of Trekkie Monster was altered to emphasize a less objectionable lifestyle.
The result is a show that is sweeter, but not at the cost of the mature themes it communicates. Relationships, commitment, racism, alternative lifestyles, homelessness, and the value of charity are all issues that high-schoolers will be dealing with when they graduate and move on into the real world.
Whereas “Avenue Q” is often exploitive and shocking, the messages inherent in the student version are not sacrificed along with the racier material.
Calabasas High School was up to the challenge, delivering excellence on all levels. (The cast was elated when the show’s cocomposer,
Jeff Marx, attended the last matinee performance.) The actors did a superb job working with the puppets, in addition to learning lines, singing well, and performing with emotion and conviction.
As is the norm, the ensemble was divided into two casts (“Brown” and “Gold”), which alternated during the five-day run. The Brown cast featured universally wonderful, even inspired, performances. Jade Bender was a sweetly endearing Kate Monster, who delivered the show’s best song, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” with a poignant understanding of her character. Mack Keane effectively played the earnest and thoughtful Princeton. Julian Rawlinson’s voice as Nicky closely approximated the sound of Muppetmeister Jim Henson himself, while Ethan Greenberg was equally successful as Rod.
Micaella Landers’s Lucy was the ultimate vamp. As Christmas Eve, Brooke Wetterhahn showcased a powerful voice, especially in the showstopper “The More You Ruv Someone.”
Zach Skidmore was affable as Brian; Kelly Monsegue gave depth to her one-joke character, Gary Coleman; and Matthew Kesner provided laughs as Trekkie Monster. The giggly Bad Idea Bears (Shayna Spielman and Daniel Dabach), though extremely toned down, were still permitted to cajole Princeton and Kate to get loaded on Long Island iced tea.
The band, directed by Aaron Kohen, was outstanding, as was John Ballowe’s set and lighting design. Michelle Lane and Kevin Noonchester masterfully choreographed the puppets,while Bill Garrett did a superior job as director.