Arts & Leisure

“Avenue Q” is not for kids

WITH Bad Idea Bears is Matthew Rangel as Princeton, Alexandra Kyte as a Bad Idea Bear and behind Rangel is Peter Crisafulli as another Bad Idea Bear in “Avenue Q” now on stage at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove.

By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune

Be forewarned: this ain’t no kids’ show.

If “Sesame Street” was kindergarten, consider “Avenue Q” college: complete with late-night parties, early morning hangovers, freshman mistakes, bohemian friends, money struggles – and all the complex dilemmas and consequences that constitute modern adult life.

Newly opened at Garden Grove’s acclaimed Gem Theater, “Avenue Q” is distinctly reminiscent of a certain other puppet-populated thoroughfare, complete with a pair of “confirmed bachelor” roommates, Rod and Nicky (Matthew Rangel and Peter Crisafulli); friendly local “persons of fur” Kate Monster (Cassidy Love) and Trekkie Monster (Crisafulli), no relation; the hedonistic, impulsive and ill-advised Bad Idea Bears (Alexandra Kyte and Crisafulli); and the human tenants of Avenue Q, including the everyman Brian (Ryan Addison), bombastic therapist (and Brian’s fiance) Christmas Eve (Joy Arzaga) and the building superintendent, former television child star Gary Coleman (Tickwanya Jones).

Along comes fresh-faced college graduate Princeton (Rangel), striking out in the world and apartment hunting, thrilled to find affordable lodging on this very street (as well as meeting the lovely Ms. Monster.) The audience is treated to the young man’s real-world struggles, dreams and (mis)adventures, and those of his neighbors, too — like Kate’s aspiration to build a school for monsters, or Rod’s desperate avoidance of discovering his own sexual proclivities.

The road to adulthood is riddled with potholes and pitfalls, and nothing seems simple when you’re a grown-up. Will the young Princeton find his way — and ultimately, his purpose?

One might presume that going from the Gem’s last production of “Spongebob” to “Avenue Q” is bounding from one end of the animated/puppetry spectrum to the other, but not so: both have valuable lessons in friendship and finding yourself. But in “Q”, those lessons are not necessarily “kid-friendly”: some of the complex topics include homelessness, racism, sexual identity, and more.

Considering the scope of the show, the fact that it is no more than seven or so actors on stage performing multiple roles is quite the feat. Viewers are treated to virtually seamless transitions between characters: an actor walks through a door playing one puppet character, and within an instant is out an adjacent door, complete with new puppet and personality. (A special treat is watching the actors on stage subtly voicing two characters at once, as Crisafulli, Love and Rangel do on multiple occasions throughout the show.) With this newest production, the audience is treated to a number of fresh new talents, such as Arzaga, Jones, Kyte and Love — tremendous new additions to the illustrious acting troupe.

With “Avenue Q”, director Damien Lorton and the entire cast and crew has brought something special and unusual to the Gem, reminiscent of childhood, yet comfortably adult. Whereas Sesame Street taught life lessons at an earlier, arguably simpler age in our lives, “Avenue Q” brings to mind those lessons while teaching us more about the modern world and its challenges. Nothing is ever quite as clean cut as it is on the Sesame Street we grew up with, but neither is life.

It’s an outstanding endeavor, due in no small part to the considerable talents of the cast and how deftly they perform in sync with their fuzzy counterparts (the Gem’s One More Productions troupe actually has a number of behind-the-scenes looks leading up to the show on their Instagram, @ompatthegem.)

Of special note is a certain Mr. Rangel: while still relatively new to the OMP family, he’s made quite the impression with his range in the last few Gem productions: but with his remarkably strong performances playing multiple characters in “Q”, it really feels like he comes into his own, and looks to be having a hysterical amount of fun with his roles to boot (his musical number as Rod in “My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada” will have viewers rolling with laughter.) There’s obviously a lot of love and effort poured into the show by the entire cast and crew, and it pays off.

An offbeat, charming, startling, and wonderfully over-the-top piece, “Avenue Q” is a fantastic, funny and fulfilling show, and potentially a great adult date night… just be sure and leave the kids at home, okay?

“Avenue Q”, Matthew Rangel, Cassidy Love and Peter Crisafulli star in this MA-rated adult take-off on Sesame Street, but with equally valuable life lessons. Now playing through October 23 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information. Mature language and topics, not for children.

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