Theater Review: ‘Avenue Q’ Final Performance at New World Stages

By Jonathan Spira on 28 May 2019
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Happy sounding opening number? Check!
Colorful puppets? Check!
Bleak urban streetscape? Check!
Tearful cast members? Also check!

Welcome to the very last performance of “Avenue Q,” which ended an almost 16-year run Sunday evening at New World Stages.

Avenue Q, set on an imaginary street in an outer borough of New York City where the rent is still affordable for 20-somethings just out of college, went out on a high note, literally.

The set of "Avenue Q" shortly before the final performance

The set of “Avenue Q” shortly before the final performance

The audience, comprised largely of former cast members and others who were part of the productions over the past 16 years including the show’s two creators, Jeff Marx and Bobby Lopez; and Rick Lyon, who created the puppets and originated the roles of Trekkie Monster and Nicky. In addition, multiple members of the original Broadway cast were present, including Natalie Venetia Belcon (Gary Coleman), Jordan Gelber (Brian), Ann Harada (Christmas Eve), and Jennifer Barnhart (Mrs. Thistletwat and one of the Bad Ideas Bears).

In the middle of it all were some theatergoers who just happened to purchase seats to the last show. They probably missed a lot of the dialogue given the raucous applause almost every special Avenue Q moment seemed to generate.

For the last time, Music Director Brian Hertz fired up the Avenue Q band, comprised of Gillian Berkowitz playing keyboard, Aaron Irwin on reeds, and Joe Choroszewski on the drums, and the opening cartoon rolled on the theater’s two monitors.

The sun is shining,
It’s a lovely day,
A perfect morning
For a kid to play,
But you’re got lots
Of bills to pay –
What can you do?

Once again, it became clear that we were not on Sesame Street any longer.

It is here on Avenue Q that the bright-eyed and rather charming Princeton (Matt Dengler) shows up, ostensibly looking for an apartment, but is actually pursuing his quest for a purpose in life. He explains that he “started on Avenue A but so far everything’s out of my price range,” adding that “This neighborhood looks a lot cheaper though!”

With a voice full of hope, he sings, “Something’s coming, something good,” echoing a sentiment last sung on a Broadway stage by another young and optimistic voice, Tony in “West Side Story.” But the parallel ends there.

Princeton’s role models are his underemployed friends on Avenue Q including his sometime girlfriend Kate Monster (Veronica J. Kuehn); new friends Brian (Nick Kohn), a would be standup comic with a big heart; Brian’s fiancée/wife (they get married during the show) Christmas Eve (Grace Choi), a Japanese therapist who struggles with English pronunciation; former college roommates Rod (also Mr. Dengler) and Nicky (Jason Jacoby), a closeted Republican investment banker and a slacker who are reminiscent of Bert and Ernie; and Trekkie Monster (also Mr. Jacoby), a porn-loving recluse whose voice and mannerisms strongly resemble Cookie Monster absent the diet. Finally, there’s the show’s patron saint, Gary Coleman (played by Lacretta), the former child star whose greatest fear “is that I already achieved my damn purpose in life.”

While “Sesame Street” teaches kids about numbers and letters and even how to save money, the disarmingly cute “Avenue Q” steps in to rescue those who failed Sesame Street 101 and teaches them about racism, finding a job, relationships, and even online porn.

The brainchild of Messrs. Lopez and Marx (and I saw a few tears in Mr. Lopez’ eyes after the performance), the coming-of-age tale continued to have great meaning to generations of kids (including myself) who grew up on Sesame Street and saw “Avenue Q” as a continuation of sorts, a two-hour course in adulting that works, in part, because puppets can say things people shouldn’t.

“Nothing lasts,” Nicky sings in the closing number, which emphasizes that “Everything in life is only for now.”

Nothing lasts,
Life goes on,
Full of surprises.
You’ll be faced with problems of all shapes and sizes.
You’re going to have to make a few compromises…
For now…
But only for now.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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