Finding your way to ‘Avenue Q’

Follow the laughter to this irreverent R-rated musical

Rod the puppet (from left), Logan Heller and Director David Belew in ProArts presentation of the Hawaii premiere of “Avenue Q,” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, opening Friday, April 12 and running through May 5 at the ProArts Playhouse at Azeka Shopping Center Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets for any ProArts event, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com. “Avenue Q” contains adult content and is not appropriate for children. Jack Grace photo

It is likely that many people, by simply seeing the title “Avenue Q,” know exactly what it is, can quote the lyrics to this irreverent musical, plan on attending over the coming weeks and have already purchased their tickets. Others are saying, “What is ‘Avenue Q?’ “

The best description would be a hilarious, R-rated “Sesame Street.” Due to its enormous appeal among the 18 to 49 demographic and its limited run with an intimate theater venue, be forewarned that “Avenue Q” could sell out before it even opens next weekend at the ProArts Playhouse in Azeka Shopping Center Makai in Kihei.

This one-of-a-kind musical has been taking the theater world by storm for 16 years. First as an off-Broadway hit, followed by a lengthy multi-Tony Award-winning run placing it as the 24th longest-running show in Broadway history and its 10-year return to off-Broadway, where it will be closing on May 26.

Created by Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon,” “Frozen”), Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, “Q” won the coveted Tony triple crown in 2004 with awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. Composer Lopez’s subsequent achievements have landed him additional Tonys, Academy Awards, Emmys and Grammys.

“The music is catchy and the lyrical work is very impressive,” says local Director David Belew.

I asked Belew why he wanted to direct “Q.”

“I’ve seen it many times on Broadway and off-Broadway. It’s just such a funny, funny show. But I also love that it is a seven-person cast. That’s a great size to do advanced character work with the actors,” he shared.

Belew has his work cut out for him, but so do the actors.

“They’re amazing,” he said. “The four puppeteers are constantly doing four things at once — singing, delivering their lines, choreography, plus operating the puppets.”

“Avenue Q” has three human characters and 11 puppets that interact as if human, not unlike on “Sesame Street.” The puppets are maneuvered and voiced by puppeteers who are present with them onstage in plain sight, but the actors voicing the puppet may not be the one animating it.

As “Q” opens, Princeton (Logan Heller) must find an apartment and a job. Starting on Avenue A, he finally finds one he can afford on Avenue Q. A few of his puppet neighbors are Kate Monster (Kathryn Holtkamp), an assistant kindergarten teacher; Rod (also Heller), a gay Republican accountant; and Trekkie Monster (Ally Shore), a surly Oscar the Grouch-like recluse and porn addict who sings, “The internet is for porn . . . / Why you think the net was born? / Porn, porn, porn!”

I inquired if Belew had a favorite puppet.

“Rod,” he replied. “I adopted him during the ‘Avenue Q’ adopt-a-puppet fundraising drive. He’s a closeted homosexual and Republican, and the other characters have a lot of comedic fun with his character arc at his expense. But Rod also has so many great songs.”

In one of those songs Rod sings “I wish you could meet my girlfriend / But you can’t because she is in Canada.”

Unlike the simple problems resolved with happy resolutions on the children’s programming that we all grew up on, the residents of “Avenue Q” are all struggling adults who face complicated real-world tribulations with extreme uncertainty.

Princeton contemplates “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” while Kate laments, “I’m kinda pretty / And pretty damn smart. . . . So why don’t I have / A boyfriend? . . . It sucks to be me!”

They both discover together, “Everyone’s a little bit racist, sometimes. / Maybe it’s a fact / We all should face. / Everyone makes judgments / Based on race.”

Belew shared what audiences can expect on their journey to “Avenue Q.”

“ProArts has a reputation for presenting great comedies, and ‘Avenue Q’ delivers that and then some. It’s one of those shows where the laughs start even before the lights come up, and they don’t stop until the end.”

*****

The highly energetic “Once On This Island JR.” closed last weekend, but you can catch excerpts from the production as part of the ONO! (One Night Only) performing arts showcase at 6:30 Monday night.

Highlights from the fast-moving one-hour musical include Rylynn Guthrie’s performance as the goddess Asaka, alongside the ensemble, on “Mama Will Provide,” “Ti Moune’s Dance” with Jaimie Tirona and ensemble, and the infectious full-cast finale, “Why We Tell the Story,” filled with quality choreography by director Dejah Padon.

Maui OnStage’s upcoming ONO! will also feature performances by Wailuku Performing Arts Alliance members Maui Pops Orchestra, Maui Choral Arts Association, Maui Chamber Orchestra and Maui Academy of Performing Arts.

• Performance is at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. The free ONO! events happen every second Monday of the month. For more information, visit www.mauionstage.com.

Also this week

King Kekaulike Drama presents “Annie,” music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan and directed by Chris Kepler.

This classic Tony Award-winning show, based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” features many well-known Broadway hits such as “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow.”

Determined to find the parents who abandoned her, Annie (Puakenikeni Kepler) escapes a New York City orphanage and finds a new home and family in billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Dylan Taasan), his secretary Grace Farrell (Juliet Moniz) and a lovable mutt named Sandy.

Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through April 13 and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 14 at the King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center on the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and are available at the box office 30 minutes before showtime and online at www.kingkekaulike.com.

Upcoming

Maui High School Saber Theater presents “An Irritation to a Murder,” by Lee Mueller, directed by Roxanne Wada. This interactive comedic mystery dinner theater event will be in performance at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 12 through 27 at the Maui High School courtyard in Kahului.

• Tickets are $9 for adults and $7.50 for students and seniors, cash only, and are available at the box office before showtime.

*****

Returning to Maui with his second co-commissioned work, transgender choreographer Sean Dorsey brings “Boys in Trouble,” a production that unpacks masculinity with unflinching honesty, from unapologetically honest transgender and queer perspectives.

Powerful, explosive, humorous and sexy, “Boys” offers an urgent and timely examination of American masculinity’s deep roots.

• Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11 in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets are $35 and $45 with half-price tickets for ages 12 and younger (plus applicable fees). For more information or to purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.

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