Millegan Review: 'Avenue Q' delivers Grade A performance at Gallo

Two-day run ends tonight

March 2, 2010 

  • 'Avenue Q'

    • RATING:
    • WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
    • WHEN: 7 p.m. today
    • RUNNING TIME: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including an intermission
    • TICKETS: $40-$85
    • INFORMATION: 338-2100 or galloarts.org

    Star Guide

    Excellent Fair
    Good Poor

Editor's Note: Walk-up $20 "rush" tickets are available to students and seniors age 60 and up for tonight's 7 o'clock performance of Avenue Q at the Gallo Center for the Arts. Students and seniors must present a photo ID and, for students, proof of enrollment in order to redeem discount.

The opposite of family entertainment, the Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q” is geared for those who love the snarky humor of “Family Guy” and “South Park.”

Like those two animated TV shows, it’s crass, irreverent and very funny. Work Light Productions’ national touring show now at the Gallo Center for the Arts is just as slick as the Broadway production I saw in 2004 and is certainly unlike anything seen on local stages.

It’s performed with “Sesame Street” style puppets who use four-letter words, have sex and praise Internet porn.

Written by Jeff Whitty (book) and Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music and lyrics), the show centers on Princeton, a recent college graduate who moves to New York and tries to start a career and a romance while maintaining friendships with the diverse crew who lives in his apartment building.

People in their 20s and 30s and beyond will relate to Princeton’s struggle with self doubt and his foolish mistakes.

In one of the funniest running jokes, he is repeatedly visited by the “Bad Idea Bears,” two cuddly cute creatures who urge him into regrettable actions.

The songs feature chirpy, upbeat melodies paired with hilariously cynical lyrics. Among the better titles are “What Do You Do with A BA in English?” and “It Sucks to Be Me.”

There is no attempt to hide the puppeteers and they are always clearly seen manipulating the arms and mouths of their puppets.

Energetic Brent Michael DiRoma operates both the puppet for ambitious Princeton and Rod, a closeted gay Republican who looks more than a little like Bert from “Sesame Street.” Versatile Jaqueline Grabois handles both sweet school teacher Kate Monster and voluptuous nightclub singer Lucy the Slut.

At Monday’s opening performance, talented understudy Charles M. Baskerville played Rod’s Ernie-like roommate Nicky, perverted apartment resident Trekkie Monster and others.

Tim Kornblum, as wannabe comedian Brian, and Lisa Helmi Johanson, as wacky therapist Christmas Eve, have some memorable moments as a bickering human couple. Nigel Jamaal Clark gets the silliest part as a has-been child star who serves as the apartment building superintendent.

While some may be shocked by how graphic some of the scenes are, others will appreciate the alternative to the usual wholesome classic musical fare. I’m thrilled that the Gallo Center is booking newer shows and giving theater fans some modern, hip options.

For more on Modesto area arts, visit twitter.com/lisamillegan and thehive.modbee.com/artsbeat.

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