There are many lessons to be learned from the naughty-yet-endearing Avenue Q but the main one is that, regardless of how much you are told as a child that you are special and you can make your dreams come true, that's not the way life is. It's a jarring message for the residents of rundown Avenue Q, most of them Sesame-Street style puppets.
While the transition from college to adult life is fraught with disappointment, the production that began Thursday night at CSUN is not one of them. Even allowing for a few minor opening night glitches, this is a show teeming with charm, energy and performances that, under the smart direction of Shad Willingham, go well beyond what might be expected of a college performance.
Also, because it has only been about nine years since this Tony Award-winning musical landed on Broadway, the themes, including acceptance of homosexuality, addiction to internet port and the difficulty of rejecting all racist thoughts--are still quite relevant.
Avenue Q has been described as a cross between Sesame Street and Rent or a cross between Sesame Street and MTV's The Real World or a cross between Sesame Street and just about anything that shows young adults grasping for their purpose in life. In this musical, all but three of the characters are puppets, some of them obvious parodies of Sesame Street denizens.
Princeton (Bobby Avila), a newly-minted college graduate with a B.A. in English with no job prospects, comes to Avenue Q in search of cheap housing. That's where he meets Kate Monster (Lauren Tyni), an overqualified kindergarten assistant with dreams of opening her own school.
There's Nicky (Alex Tordi) and Rod (David Acala), the Bert and Ernie counterparts, and Trekkie Monster (Danny Guerrero), who is partial to internet porn, not pastry.
Two of the humans are Brian (Nick Popham) a would-be standup comic and Christmas Eve (Grace Yoo), his Japanese fiancee, a clinical social worker who can't understand why no one returns for a second session. And then there's Gary Coleman (Alyssa Smith), modeled after the child actor who died in 2010. In this play, he's reduced to playing a super on Avenue Q.
The plot is a fairly uncomplicated story about the on-again, off-again romance between Princeton and Kate Monster. Far more significant and entertaining are the plights of the others, each of whom gets at least one song that neatly and humorously sums up their situations. In fact, the songs are so unique to the characters and their issues that, with the exception of There's a Fine Fine Line, it's hard to imagine them living independently of the production.
There are numerous outstanding performances. At the risk of omitting several, a special round of applause goes to Popham, Yoo, Acala, Tyni and Guerrero, as well as Amanda Godepski and Shelby Wane, who played several puppets. The actors/puppeteers are clearly visible as they voice and operate characters and yet most are so skillful that their presence onstage is not a distraction.
Despite the muppet-like appearance of the puppets, this is not a play for kids. There are adult themes, adult language and--there's no other way to say it--full-on puppet sex. That said, a general admission price of $20 (less for seniors and students) makes this one of the Valley's biggest entertainment bargains.
Additional performances are scheduled at the CSUN Campus Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and May 5, as well as 2 p.m. Sunday and May 6.