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Avenue Q @ The Wayward Artist in Santa Ana – Review

photo credit: Francis Gacad

Written by Patrick Chavis

Avenue Q is a Tony Award-winning show, which is quite an accomplishment. Avenue Q is also a show with a reputation that precedes itself. It’s a show that not only has some adult themes and comedy, but it revels in it. The offensive jokes are one of its main attractions, but it never feels mean-spirited or nasty. Maybe it’s because of the puppets, or perhaps it’s the writing. Whatever it is, Avenue Q is a show in a long tradition of art that can do something very difficult. It takes topics that are difficult to talk about –poverty, race, issues with modern education — and gets laughs. Maybe it also gets us thinking about things that are hard to think about. Wayward Artist’s production smartly utilizes the intimate nature of its space. It brings the puppets up close and personal while keeping the comedy flowing and the raunchy spirit of the material intact.

Story:

Avenue Q is a musical inspired by the long-running children’s program Sesame Street. Sesame Street was a show created in the 1960s with puppets to help educate children and prepare them for school. Avenue Q is a parody of Sesame Street, so instead of teaching children how to do well in school, it’s about preparing adults for life outside of school. Also, it’s a musical, so there are songs.

What hasn’t already been said about comedy? It’s been talked about and discussed for ages. Laughter can be healing. It can also be a way for people to dismiss you and try to tear you down. Because of this, comedy, especially what is labeled edgy comedy, can be suspect sometimes. I think it’s also why it takes either a brave or naïve person to break through with comedy. You will be judged negatively or positively on what you say, or you’re misunderstood. It happens all the time. That’s my biggest issue with Avenue Q. It can be easily misunderstood. Some people hear these songs and take them literally while completely missing the critique. Since the show is satire, the songs in it are satire. While I think it’s funny, well-written, and insightful in many ways, it raises the question, “How good of a satire is it if what you’re laughing at is laughing at you?”

The theatre leaves almost the whole space marked, and when I say marked, I mean with chalk. Cleverly, keeping within the playful theme of an outrageous sesame street, the walls are covered in funny messages. Some are related to the show, and other statements relate to things that have happened in Orange County theatre. If you frequent even one or two of the theatres in the area, you’ll pick up on the inside jokes. It’s well worth getting to your seats early to read the walls. Ashley Strain’s scenic design is colorful, playful, and appropriate for the material.

Acting:

Anyssa Navarro’s performances as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut are great. She sings the songs beautifully and puts as much effort into her facial expressions as she does with the voice and the work she’s projecting into the puppet. She’s one of the better singers I’ve heard in Orange County this year.   

My heart be still: Myles Davis, not Miles Davis, plays a wonderful sax melody on the alto sax. He also plays multiple characters (Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear) incredibly well. Kelsey Redmond and Davis are hilarious as mischievous bears that don’t mind causing a little chaos.

Last, but not least, Wyatt Hatfield brings his musical chops and personality to both of his characters, especially Rod. Now “My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada” is my new favorite Avenue Q tune. Thank you, Wyatt, you made me a believer.

Final Thoughts:

This production of Avenue Q explores a few artistic flourishes but stays pretty true to the original with a closeness to the actors and puppets you can’t always experience at a bigger theater.

Stand-out tunes:

“The Internet is for Porn”

“There’s a Fine, Fine Line”

“My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada”

Review
8.3 Overall
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Story8
Acting8
Set & Design8
Costumes8.5
Entertainment9
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Good Show! OCR Recommended! July 14 – 30, 2023.

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