Avenue Q: A Perfect Parents’ Night Out

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Treat yourself to an extraordinary night of fun at the theater, but leave the kids home for this one!

Nashville Rep presents:
Avenue Q (Sept. 8 – 23; Ages 18+)
TPAC’s Johnson Theater
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 | nashvillerep.org
Showtimes: Wed – Thu 6:30 p.m., Fri 7:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 & 7:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35 – $57.50 (Wednesdays are pay-what-you-can night available at the Box Office only between 5:15 – 6:25 p.m.)

Who says puppets are just for kids? In the case of the hilarious Avenue Q, these particular puppets are definitely NOT for youngsters. And that’s OK. You need a good excuse to call the babysitter and enjoy a night out to yourselves, Moms and Dads.

Avenue Q is Nashville Rep’s 2018-19 opener, and the company kicks off its new season with gusto! This preeminent production is the perfect parents’ night out date offering a remarkably memorable night at the theater.

COLORFUL CHARACTERS

Avenue Q delivers a sharp, tongue-in-cheek parody of the puppet-human world of Sesame Street. The run-down fictional street lies on the outskirts of New York. Here, we find a cadre of Muppet-like characters finding their way through their early adult lives.

There’s Rod, a Republican investment banker who’s secretly gay. Nicky, his roommate, is a bit of a slacker (and quite reminiscent of Ernie from Sesame Street). Kate Monster is a kindergarten teaching assistant who dreams of love and opening a special school just for monsters. Princeton is a fresh-faced kid just out of college seeking his purpose in life. Trekkie Monster’s a recluse with a particular Internet obsession. Then there’s Mrs. T., Kate’s overbearing, elderly boss. Lucy is the edgy vixen in the neighborhood, and the Bad Idea Bears use their cuteness to encourage naughty behavior among those they encounter.

The three humans in the neighborhood include Brian (Sawyer Wallace), a laid-back wannabe comedian; Christmas Eve (Natsuko Hirano), a therapist who’s moved from Japan and is engaged to Brian; and Gary Coleman (Melinda Paul). Yes, THAT Gary Coleman, the childhood star of TV’s Diff’rent Strokes. He’s the superintendent of the Avenue.

AVENUE Q THEMES

The show tackles a wide range of topics, which comically play out thanks to the puppets. The themes are ones relatable to an assortment of audience members. Like the realization of money spent on a useless degree (“What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”), being down in the dumps (“It Sucks to Be Me”), hiding in the closet (“My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada”), bigotry (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), alternate uses for the World Wide Web (“The Internet is for Porn”), taking pleasure in someone’s misfortune (“Schadenfreude”) and more.

The puppets, of course, get away with saying things that are hysterically un-P.C. — like Princeton assuming “Ariana Grande” is a combo platter at Taco Bell.

With lots of rotating themes throughout the show, the puppets live through and give voice to life’s unexpected struggles. It’s all stuff we all deal with but seldom want to talk about, like facing disappointment, dealing with rejection, living in a world that becomes more divided every day and creating a new sense of purpose. However, in the end, the citizens of Avenue Q remind us that all of these challenges are only just “For Now,” and we really just need to love each other.

TERRIFIC TALENT

As always, Gary Hoff’s impeccable design sets the perfect stage. In fact, his approach here is even better than that of the national tour that came to town a few years ago.

Lauren Shouse’s expert direction coupled with the cast’s extreme talent results in a huge hit from start to finish.

Paul’s take on Gary Coleman provides lots of laughter, as does Hirano’s delivery of Christmas Eve. Likewise Wallace goes the distance for the chuckles.

The cast members bringing the puppets to life are remarkable. The puppetry in Avenue Q is unique in that the puppeteers are fully present and unconcealed. As they are operating the puppets and giving them voice, the actors display the body language, facial mannerisms and emotions the puppets experience throughout the show.

There’s a mind-blowing amount of skill and dexterity happening on the stage thanks to Nashville Rep newcomers Sarah Aili (Mrs. T., Bad Idea Bear), Bradley Gale (Princeton, Rod) and Jonah M. Jackson (Nicky, Trekkie Monster, Bad Idea Bear). It’s particularly fun to watch Gale and Jackson quickly jump back and forth between their characters without missing a beat while singing on key in their humorous character voices.

The ever-delightful Megan Murphy Chambers’ talent is immense. She’s a real star of regional stages here in Middle Tennessee, and it’s always a treat to experience what she brings to every role she performs. Her characters in Avenue Q (Kate Monster and Lucy) are much different from anything she’s done before, and she’s triumphant on all counts. It’s mesmerizing to watch her morph from the initial innocence of Kate Monster to the seductive sexiness of Lucy. Chambers is an absolute treasure in our local theater community.

While the entire show will keep you in stitches, the night of inebriated debauchery that Kate and Princeton experience — “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)” — is definitely the most sensational side-splitting scene of the show. I mean, what’s funnier than drunk puppets getting it on?

Go ahead and treat yourself to an extraordinary night of theatrical fun with Nashville Rep!

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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