Highly Recommended ***** It is not often that I attend a “local” community theater company production. Not because of the quality of their shows, but because of the time that I have to see as many shows as I see. However, when it comes to a few of the local companies, the ones that truly shine, I make the time to stay in my community to see their work. Highland Park Players is one of these select organizations. Dedicated actors and technical staffing that desire to bring some of the best to the North Shore. When I heard they were bringing “Avenue Q” ( one of my very favorites) to the stage they use in Northbrook, I re-arranged my play plans to make sure I got a chance to see what Director Catherine Davis would do with this Tony Award winning show. She did it to perfection! Sheer magic on the stage!.
For those of you unaware of this musical, “Avenue Q” is written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music and lyrics) with a book by Jeff Whitty ( these are the Southpark guys who also brought “The Book of Mormon” to life). This is a “coming of age” story that will ring a special note for those who grew up on “Sesame Street”. In fact, it has been said that this is “Sesame Street” on steroids, adult style. The characters are very close to those we grew to love on the PBS series that was designed to both entertain and educate. It is because of that show that our kids grew up not being afraid of “monsters”. Let’s face it, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch were our “friends”!
This show pokes fun at the issues that young people face as they leave their world of being educated (school) to enter the real world (employment or lack of same). Remember how we told our kids, or our parents told us (depending on your age group) that all you had to do was work hard and the “world was your oyster”? Guess what? NOT! Life has other rules and often we are forced to make choices that are ugly, just to survive. This is the real world and this show takes us places within that world to show us that being “special” doesn’t mean anything at all.
The show speaks to issues like sex and drinking, surfing the web for porn, racism and even addresses roommates who might or might not be Gay (think of Bert and Ernie and the questions you had as you grew up). While this is a show with lots of puppets, making one think the kids will love it, this is in every way a strictly ADULT show, which is why I was anxious to see how they would handle it on the Northshore. This theater company did not flinch. They did the show the right way and in fact, probably as solid a production as the Broadway In Chicago tour that came through a few years back. Congratulations to a direction job by Ms Davis that truly hit the nail on the head!
The choreography by Alexis Armstrong was clever and the set (David Erck did a masterful job of using the smaller stage at the Northbrook Theatre) came very close to that of the original. The lighting (Kurt Ottinger) and sound (Richard Neumann) made the show easy to watch and hear and while the costumes (Janice Gemp, who also handled the props) were delicious, it is the puppets and the actors who truly brought a little bit of Broadway to The North Shore! Hats off to the puppet directors, Daniel Dempsey and Rachel Christianson. They taught the actors who had puppet personas how to bring the puppet to the character in a manner that drew the viewer’s eye to the action of the puppet rather than the actor who held and controlled the puppet. This is not an easy task as they each became one with the character and minutes into the play, we no longer were watching an actor working a puppet. We were watching a puppet play his or her role in the story.
The main story is about a young man, Princeton (amazingly played by David Geinosky), fresh out of school and in deep debt moving to New York to start his new career. Being short on funds, he arrives in the outer borough of New York on a street called “Avenue Q” where he is able to find a rental and meet an extended family. His “super” is one ex-tv star, Gary Coleman (played by a female, Ashley Foreman,for some reason, it is written this way, but it works!) and the woman who will become the love of his life, Kate Monster (the adorable Justine Klein, who will swoop you off your feet with her acting and voice-wow!). She is a “monster” and there are others. Here we learn about racism and prejudices with a capital P. The songs propel the story line with titles (and lyrics) such as ” “It Sucks To Be Me”, “If You Were Gay”, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and many more. The neighbors in the apartment complex are Brian (Aaron Miller) an out of work comedian who ends up marrying his live in girlfriend, Japanese Christmas Eve (the adorable Hannah Rose, who was dynamite with the exception of her Asian accent), the Ernie and Bert roommates Rod (deftly handled by Bradley Lee Kisner) and Nicky (Aaron G. Stash is amazing in this role with puppet help from ensemble member Bob Spidle), Trekkie Monster (the hilarious Terry McEnroe, who also did a bang up job of playing Mrs. T), the very sexy Lucy the Slut ( played to perfection by the very sexy Angela Carrington) and the idea bears, bad (the adorable Heidi Hansfield and her buddy Greg Pearson). These guys were scene stealers- adorable and one almost thought that the puppets they controlled were the real actors- that is acting!
There is a lot to say about this solid production that you should take in (without the kids) during its short run. The projections, the music (under the direction of Ken Preuss) the technical people are all top-notch, but in reality it is the actors and their director who led them down the right path every step of the way to make this a show that will shine in one’s memory (both audience and performer) for years to come. The run is short, thru the 25th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m.
Tickets are only $22 and can be reserved by calling 847-291-2995 or online at www.highlandparkplayers.com. Running time for act one- one hour 24 minutes. Total 2 hours 30 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.