Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Queue Up For Avenue Q

Often I hesitate listening to soundtracks of stage musicals before I get to watch the production. My reason is simple: I’m hearing those songs out of context. Only when I know I don’t stand a chance of seeing such productions do I grudgingly listen to them—and only after someone gives me a very thorough backgrounder on the musical.

Thank goodness I resisted listening to Avenue Q before watching it last Saturday.

* * * * *

For me, Avenue Q’s main attraction and strength is its libretto and book. The production design is simple and the puppets are Sesame Street-simple; nothing visually gasp-inducing happens (unlike, say a helicopter landing onstage, or a chandelier crashing down on the audience).

With such “simple” settings, the real magic of this musical rests on the shoulders of its cast. They are divided in two: those who perform as human characters, and those who perform with puppets.

Rycharde Everley gives a solid performance as Brian, the jobless bum on Avenue Q. Frenchie Dy had a great singing voice and gives her all as Christmas Eve, the Korean girlfriend of Brian. For a stage musical virgin, she acquits herself excellently. Yes, there were times when I felt her performance was stiff in contrast with her co-actors onstage, and at times her faux-Korean-American accent got in the way. But just give her time, and I can see that she can do quite well in stage musicals.

Aiza Seguerra’s case is a lot more interesting. She plays Gary Coleman, a real-life actor who appeared in “Diff’rent Strokes”, a very popular sitcom back in the 80s. Aiza was a stroke of casting genius: she can sing and act, and just like Gary Coleman, her career as an actress has already waned. (In fact, if it weren’t for her reinvention as a singer, one could say that Aiza, like Gary, was already a has-been.) But the challenge in playing a real-life person is that there may be members of the audience who are familiar with the real Gary Coleman. I’m one of those old enough to remember his catch-phrase: “What’chu talkin’ about, Willis?!” Thus the challenge is greater for the actor to keep the audience convinced that she is Gary Coleman. To her credit Aiza gives her best to the role; it’s just that every slight stumble with her African-American accent makes me see “Pagdating Ng Panahon” on stage. Maybe it’s me, not her.

Unlike in Sesame Street wherein the puppeteers are hidden from view, the puppeteers in Avenue Q are in full view of the audience. This is akin to Japan’s puppet theater, bunraku, wherein the puppeteers are onstage with the puppets. But the puppeteers’ exceptional skills in making the puppets “come alive” onstage eventually renders them “invisible” to the audience because all eyes are on the puppets instead of them.

Felix Rivera (Princeton/Rod), Rachel Alejandro (Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut), and Joel Trinidad (Nicky/Trekkie Monster; and ably assisted by Teenee Chan) are more engaging actors than puppeteers. To be fair to them, it takes years to create a Jim Henson or a Frank Oz; they only had about a month to get their puppetry skills down pat. For most part they do very well. But after a while I was watching the actors more than the puppets they were holding up. Felix and Joel in particular were acting with their whole bodies; they were more engaging to watch. Their vocal skills, along with Rachel, were in great form as they switched from one character to the next, sometimes playing two characters at the same time in a scene.

* * * * *

Avenue Q is Sesame Street after college: lessons are learned, albeit in a more realistic, tempered way. In simple Sesame Street, the lesson is, “Racism is bad”; in Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a little racist; if we acknowledge that, maybe we can get along better.”

In the hands of the exceptional ensemble, Avenue Q’s songs engage, entertain and pack an emotional punch. More than just moving, the songs also instruct. Now that’s a tall feat. Thanks to the talented cast and creative staff (headed by co-directors Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga), this latest from Atlantis Production graduates with high honors.

If there’s one must-watch musical for you,
then you won’t go wrong with Avenue Q.
Queue up before it ends on cue.

Atlantis Production presents Avenue Q

September 7 - 23, 2007
• Fridays (8pm)
• Saturdays (2pm and 8pm)
• Sundays (3pm)

Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium
RCBC Plaza
Buendia Ave. cor Ayala Ave., Makati City

Call Ticketworld or Atlantis Productions at 892-7078 from Mondays to Fridays, 9am-5pm.


Anonymous said...

christmas eve is supposed to be japanese (working in a korean deli if the lyrics weren't modified). just as long as the r's and l's are pronounced interchangeably, hehe.

joelmcvie said...

@ANONYMOUS: Ay korek, Japanese woman working in a Korean deli nga pala. Thanks for the correction.

AJ of said...

gonna watch this on Sunday... that is if we can still get tickets. hehhe. calling ticketworld later

Nelson said...

I'll be performing "The Internet is For Porn" with five other choir members for our Taboo Cabaret. I'll be Trekkie Monster, without the puppet.

I sounded like an oversexed Yoda.

nerie said...

wow their staging avenue q in manila? that's awesome.

i saw it last weekend in new york, got the cd and i've been humming to "it sucks to be me" every chance i get.

funny thing on the last part where they were singing "george bush!... is only for now." most people were hooting and applauding.

great, great show!

joelmcvie said...

@NERIE: When they sang "George Bush!" here, the audience also laughed and clapped. I guess the feeling is universal. :-)

closet case said...

had fun totally with the show! great, great! love the vocal acrobatics of the main characters playing dual parts. adult issues presented in a non-threatening, humorous, non-offensive way yet careful not to trivialize. GALENG GALENG!