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‘Avenue Q — The Musical’ a south suburban first

'Avenue Q — The Musical' residents include Gary Coleman (clockwise from lower left Wanjiku Kairu) Trekkie Monster (Rick Rapp) Nicky

"Avenue Q — The Musical" residents include Gary Coleman (clockwise from lower left, Wanjiku Kairu), Trekkie Monster (Rick Rapp), Nicky (Rick Shuler), Brian (Frank Hattula), Christmas Eve (Nikki Dizon) and Princeton (Jeff Pastiak). | Diane and Chuck Kaffka photo

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‘AVENUE Q —
THE MUSICAL’

◆ 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11-13 and 2 p.m. Oct. 14

Some performances are already sold out

◆ The Drama Group Studio Theatre, 330 W. 202nd St., Chicago Heights

◆ Tickets, $20 for adults, $19 for ages 65 and older and $15 for students with identification and groups of 25 or more

Group discount rates also are available

◆ (708) 755-3444;
dramagroup.org

◆ The show contains adult themes, language and content

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Updated: November 13, 2012 6:17AM



The Drama Group is usually known for its classic dramas, Broadway musicals and family performances.

But the current show at the Studio Theatre in Chicago Heights is hardly for all ages.

With “Avenue Q,” the Drama Group takes a step out on the edge — actually, the far edge. “Avenue Q” is not recommended for anyone younger than age 13.

But for many audiences and critics it got rave reviews — and three Tony Awards — when it opened in New York City in 2004.

“Avenue Q” has since come to Chicago in various venues such as the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Bailiwick Chicago, Stage 773 and Bank of America Theatre.

The Drama Group staging is one of the play’s few community theater productions.

“And I’m proud to be the first to present it in the south suburbs,” said Curt Lang, of Monee, who along with his wife, Tammy, is co-director of “Avenue Q.”

The Langs, who have directed and acted in Drama Group shows for some 12 years, first saw “Avenue Q” with its original cast in New York in 2005 and in Chicago on one of its national tours.

“We loved it,” he said. “It’s a hoot.”

Like “Sesame Street,” “Avenue Q” uses hand puppets alongside human characters. However, it requires even more suspension of belief.

The puppets are animated and voiced by actors who are present on stage. The audience is expected to ignore the actors’s presence.

They perform a musical coming-of-age story beginning with Princeton, a fresh college graduate who moves to New York in search of an apartment. But all he can afford is way out on shabby Avenue Q.

Princeton, performed by the Drama Group’s Jeff Pastiak, is searching for his place in life.

He laments that his parents told him as a child he could grow up to be anything he wanted to be.

But now he and his friends have found out how limited their future might be and that maybe they really aren’t that special after all.

Pastiak, of Frankfort, is the only cast member with puppet experience, Lang said. Pastiak’s Drama Group resume includes roles in “Rent” and “Noises Off.”

But this show doesn’t necessarily have a “lead,” Lang said. “It’s really an ensemble cast. They’re all so talented, and everyone has at least one song.

The characters include Bad Idea Boy Bear played by Ron Bowden Jr. and Bad Idea Girl Bear played by Amy Dettman.

“They’re little teddy bears, sugary and sweet, but really devil’s advocates,” Lang said.

Jeannie Markionni plays Princeton’s girlfriend, Kate Monster.

Rick Rapp plays Trekkie Monster, sort of a takeoff on Cookie Monster, and Benjamin Golay is Rod, an investment banker.

Rod and Nicky, played by Rick Schuler, are takeoffs on Bert and Ernie of “Sesame Street.”

Other cast members are: Brian played by Frank Hattula, Christmas Eve portrayed by Nikki Dizon, Lucy played by Julie Martin and Mrs. T portrayed by Fara Lynn Bingham.

There’s one real-life human role, Gary Coleman, played by Wanjiku Kairu, of Chicago.

“He was played by an African-American female in New York,” Lang said, “and we similarly have Kairu. She’s moved to Chicago from New Jersey and is new to the Drama Group.”

Making the puppets from scratch would have been daunting, Lang conceded, so the Drama Group rented them from Russ Walko, a Californian who made them especially for such shows.

Tom Venutolo is the music director, and the lyrics are quite catchy, Lang said.

“But they include all the words you couldn’t say on ‘Sesame Street.’ ”

That includes considerable profanity. There’s also simulated sex and drinking.

One of the song titles, for example, suggests, “The Internet is for Porn.”

Conceived and written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, the lyrics, of course, are not exactly out of the Children’s Television Workshop scripts.

Don Snider is a local freelance writer.



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