“Avenue Q” is still a nice place to visit

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Avenue Q cast holding puppets
Avenue Q. Photo by Erick Rommel

Axelrod production is a charmingly cheerful time at the theatre

Avenue Q full cast and puppets on stage
Avenue Q. Photo by Erick Rommel

The Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal has an ambitious season planned for this year, leading off with the Tony®-award-winning musical Avenue Q. The show, last seen on Broadway in 2009, still retains much of its charm — after all, it has been described as “Sesame Street for grown-ups” — but a lot of its satirical bite has been dulled with time. 

The show, written by Jeff Whitty with a score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, is set in an outer borough of New York on a somewhat dilapidated street. Princeton (Clint Hromsco), a recent college grad with a BA in English, arrives looking for an affordable apartment — he started at Avenue A and worked his way down.

He meets the street’s residents: Brian (Beau Bradshaw), an unemployed comic, and his Asian-American fiancee Christmas Eve (Amelia Fei), an underemployed social worker; Kate Monster (Miranda Wolf), a grade school teacher trainee; Rod and Nicky (Mr. Hromsco and Adam Zeph), two longtime friends and roommates; Trekkie Monster (Mr. Zeph), who spends his days at the computer; and Gary Coleman — yes, that Gary Coleman — who is the building super (Nélesheé).

Together, the group navigates through joblessness, homelessness, racism, homosexuality, depression, and other problems of modern-day urban life. Some dreams come true, often in hilarious and unexpected ways.

The cast, directed and choreographed by Todd Underwood, is uniformly talented. Each of them gets several chances to shine in musical numbers and scenes, and the puppeteers — Hromsco, Wolf, and Zeph chief among them — are multiple-voiced delights. Hromsco, Wolf, and Fei also deliver through their singing talents, while Nélesheé has a sassy stage presence as the down-on-his-luck Gary Coleman.

Avenue Q cast member holding a puppet
Avenue Q. Photo by Erick Rommel

While Jeff Whitty’s book has aged (at times, not for the better), Lopez and Marx’s score is still fine. To give you an idea of the music’s versatility, here are some of the song titles: “Schadenfreude,”; “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,”; “The Internet Is for Porn,”; “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,”; “The More You Ruv Someone”; “It Sucks to Be Me”; “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada”; and the optimistic closing number “For Now.” Conductor Michael Gilch leads an off-stage sextet that nimbly handles its musical chores.

I have to admit I saw Avenue Q when it was on Broadway, and while the performers here are energetic, they didn’t seem to be lively. It is rare that I say this, but I blame the audience for this performance, which was not forthcoming with the response that a cast needs for extra energy. Still, I enjoyed this performance very much. 

If what you’re looking for is a charmingly cheerful time in the theater, I recommend making the trip to Deal’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center and taking a walk down Avenue Q!

Avenue Q is presented at the Vogel Auditorium in the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal through November 20.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call 732-531-9106, extension 14, or go to axelrodartscenter.com.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first live play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. He works in the box office at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.