Audrey Baker, left, and Monica Ho light up New Conservatory Theatre Center’s purple cast of “Avenue Q.” (Courtesy Lois Tema)

Audrey Baker, left, and Monica Ho light up New Conservatory Theatre Center’s purple cast of “Avenue Q.” (Courtesy Lois Tema)

Spirited NCTC ‘Avenue Q’ extends past the holidays

In program notes for New Conservatory Theatre Center’s annual holiday run of “Avenue Q,” company artistic director Ed Decker calls the show “the final, final ‘Furwell’ tour.”

Judging by the excellent current purple cast of the funny, sweet and profane puppet-filled musical, it’s easy to understand why the hit show (in its fourth NCTC season and extended well past the holidays this year, to Jan. 22) continues to delight audiences.

Decker calls the 2003 modern classic — a multiple Tony-Award winner for best musical, book (by Jeff Whitty) and score (by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx) — “particularly harrowing after a harrowing election year.”

To that point, the lyric in the show’s closing number, which once reassured that “George Bush” only is “For Now,” has appropriately been changed to “Donald Trump.”

It was delivered impeccably by the all-around lively purple cast on a recent weeknight; everyone’s clearly having a good time on the avenue, a Sesame Street-like place for the 21st century in which residents grapple with racism, homophobia, love, sex, employment and simply getting on with their lives.

Strong voiced Audrey Baker and Kyle Stoner (as puppets Kate Monster, a sweet schoolteacher, and Princeton, a recent college graduate looking for purpose) are funny and charming as the romantic leads.

Their cohorts are equally appealing. Scott DiLorenzo plays jovial Brian, an out-of-work human comedian; Monica Ho is his Asian sweetheart and underemployed social worker Christmas Eve: and Venessa Vaccianna is terrific as property manager (and former child star) Gary Coleman –whom everyone, in the hilarious song “It Sucks To Be Me,” agrees really does get the short end of the stick.

Adept Brendon North takes on puppet roles: the Cookie Monster-like Trekkie (addicted to internet porn) and nice guy Nicky, who helps his gay roommate Rod (operated by Stoner again) deal with conflicted feelings about his sexuality.

Puppeteer Juliana Lustender chimes in as a hilariously devilish Bad Idea Bear.

Interestingly, members of this charismatic cast are rookies in the parts, alternating with an orange cast, which includes veterans in the NCTC roles.

So, while Decker has commented that 2016-17 marks NCTC’s “final Furwell” of the show, now might be just the right time for musical theater fans to check out these very colorful performers.


Avenue Q
Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 22
Tickets: $40 to $55
Contact: (415) 861-8972,
Audrey BakerAvenue QBrendon NorthDennis LickteigJuliana LustenaderKyle SonterMatthew Lee CannonMonica HoNew Conservatory Theatre CenterScott DiLorenzoTheaterVenessa Vaccianna

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