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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: UWGB’s ‘Avenue Q’ is ssszzz - HOT

The flinty musical is strong on many counts.

PHOTO: Nick Schommer enacts the searching puppet character Princeton and Erin Sunisa plays Gary Coleman in the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Dance production of “Avenue Q, the Musical.” UWGB photo

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – Every once in a while, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Dance produces a hot ticket. “Avenue Q, the Musical” is a hot ticket. If you have half a mind to catch either of today’s, Saturday, Nov. 23, final two performances, better act now at www.weidnercenter.com/events/‎.

“Avenue Q” is a strong show.

- Strong story: Young, sexual/horny, searching, confused/committed.

- Strong production: Many moving parts, multimedia, sensational and smartly crafted set, sophisticated use of puppets, movement fused with acting. A general feeling of fullness.

- Strong acting: The themes of the story, the age span of characters, the sizzle of this being the hot “Avenue Q”! fit right into the wheelhouse of the cast.

- Strong language: The story is set in New York City on a funky street where people have street smarts and/or a street mouth. “Avenue Q” is coarse, including a range of nicknames for genitalia. (Aren’t the arts fun?)

Put all that stuff together in a full house, as Friday night in University Theatre on campus, and the atmosphere is A-LIVE.

The cast

Princeton, Nick Schommer; Kate Monster, Chelsea Crevcoure; Rod, Tyler Miles; Nicky Emmanuel Zamora; Gary Coleman, Erin Sunisa; Christmas Eve, Leah LaMalfa; Brian, Randall J. Tranowski; Trekkie Monster, Evan Ash; Lucy, Stephanie Frank; Bear, Mrs. T and others, Conrad Kamschulte; Bear, Ricky New Kid and others, Hannah Blecha; Ensemble, Kristen Woodward.

Creation credits

Music and lyrics, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; book, Jeff Whitty; original concept, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; orchestration and arrangements, Stephen Oremus; puppet concept and design, Rick Lyon; animation design, Robert Lopez.

UWGB credits

Director, Laura Riddle; music director, Courtney Sherman; choreographer, Denise Carlson-Gardner; scenic and lighting designer, Jeffrey Paul Entwistle; costume designer, Janice Pytel; lighting designer, R. Michael Ingraham; technical director, R. Michael Ingraham; sound designer, Drew Arnold; properties designer, Jeffrey Paul Entwistle; assistant technical director, David Cook; assistant to the costume designer, Cody Von Ruden; stage manager, Chad Bishop; band: Courtney Sherman, conductor; Emily Sculliuffo, keyboard; Kyle Sweeney, keyboard; Sam Stranz, reeds; Matt Hayes, guitar; Seth Parmer, bass; Bobby Magers, drums and percussion.

Songs

“The Avenue Q Theme” – Company

“What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”– Princeton

“It Sucks to Be Me” – Brian, Kate Monster, Rod, Nicky, Christmas Eve, Gary Coleman and Princeton

“If You Were Gay” – Nicky with Rod

“Purpose” – Princeton and Company (via “singing boxes”)

“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” – Princeton, Kate, Gary, Brian and Christmas Eve

“The Internet Is for Porn” – Kate, Trekkie Monster, Brian, Gary Coleman, Rod and Princeton

“Mix Tape” – Kate and Princeton

“I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today” – Brian

“Special” – Lucy

“You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin’ Love)” – Gary, The Bad Idea Bears, Princeton, Kate and Company

“Fantasies Come True” – Rod, Kate, Nicky and Princeton

“My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada” – Rod

“There’s a Fine, Fine Line” – Kate

“It Sucks to Be Me” (Reprise) – Princeton

“There is Life Outside Your Apartment” – Brian, Princeton, Christmas Eve, Gary, Nicky, Trekkie Monster, Lucy and Company

“The More You Ruv Someone” – Christmas Eve and Kate

Schadenfreude” – Gary and Nicky

“I Wish I Could Go Back to College” – Kate, Nicky and Princeton

“The Money Song” – Nicky, Princeton, Gary, Brian and Christmas Eve

“School for Monsters” – Trekkie Monster and Company

“The Money Song” (Reprise) – Nicky, Princeton, Gary, Brian and Christmas Eve

“There’s a Fine, Fine Line” (Reprise) – Princeton and Kate

“What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” (Reprise) – Newcomer

“For Now” – Company

Various thoughts:

- One of the fascinating elements of the production is the interplay of the puppets and their human counterparts, who are seen. This is an example of supreme multitasking. The performers are two personages in one in performance – plus being their living being in real life; it’s very cosmic. Sometimes you watch the puppet, and sometimes you watch the actor. Either way, it’s a riveting experience.

- The show is very much a product of “Sesame Street.” It’s an answer to what happens years after watching the perfect-world “Sesame Street” when the real world hits you in the face with its complexities, dilemmas and contradictions. The show kind of says (among a jillion things) there’s no right way, just your way. Hard liners of any stripe will have problems with this show.

- The cool thing about seeing top-notch collegiate productions is how well developed they are. The student casts and their directors and creative teams have spent weeks concentrating on one object, honing it and honing it. This happens over and over, from campus to campus. When a hot/hit item like “Avenue Q” comes along – whoa, is it fun.

- VENTILATORS! Facilities managers need to be aware that when a bunch of people suddenly fill a theater, the place needs more ventilation. This happens often with big-crowd performances. Slooooowwwwwly, the good air gets sucked out of the place, and the comfort level becomes the discomfort level. It happened Friday with “Avenue Q.”

- The song titles above give you an idea of the 31 flavors in this show.

- The use of Monsters plays on racial things. Clever. How a key Monster invests his money in a fluctuating market turns out to be a profound irony.

- This is an impressive production (4½ stars out of 5). It’s smart, well made and absorbing from start to finish.

THE VENUE: The 450-seat University Theatre features banked seating and a proscenium (flat front) stage that’s 50 feet across and 23 feet high. The seats are red, the concrete gray, the ceiling a semi-dark blue, covering ventilating/electrical equipment. Concrete dominates the room – the floor, the walls, the stairs. Theatre Hall and University Theatre inside it are of a 1970s angular functionality style. Other University of Wisconsin System buildings of the era are similarly locked in to the rigid style. It was a mindset of the time.

REST OF SEASON: “Censored on Final Approach,” Feb. 27-March 8; “DanceWorks,” April 4-5; “Communicating Doors,” April 25-May 3.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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