Avenue Q: Potty Mouthed Puppets; God or Merman Musical – Hilarious; Help is on the Way: Star-Studded Evening

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on August 10, 2007

AVENUE Q: Edgy and Outrageous

Do Puppets have sex? Well, yes they do if they live on Avenue Q. There is a ‘Rent’ like feeling to this show. They sing about ‘purpose’ in life in a somewhat lower class neighborhood. There is Princeton, who gets a job and Rents a room from Gary Coleman, the Child Star. He no sooner gets the job, and he gets a call that he is being laid off. “How can I be laid off, when I haven’t even started”, he pleads.

Princeton falls in love with Kate Monster who is a kindergarten teacher who has her purpose in life. She wants to found her own school. Also on the Street is Rod the Republican Closeted investment banker. Living upstairs is the pervert Trekkie Monster who loves to watch porn all day and night. Princeton meets Lucy The Slut and has sex with her. Lucy is heard to say “What are all these green pubic hairs doing in my mouth? This wounds his love Kate, who overheard. Later on, Lucy The Slut has an accident and ends up in the hospital. On the end of the hospital bed – it says “Slut, Lucy.”

There are lots of whimsical lyrics in the show. Most of the songs sound pretty much the same, but it is the words that make this show. For instance the song – “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, has all the neighbors in a group song that shows how Whites, Black and Chinese people all harbor some racism. This is where some of the ‘Rent’ feel drifts into the show. Rod the Republican kicks out his roommate, who is straight for ‘Outing’ him. He later regrets it, when he finds out that Nicky has become a homeless person. So he takes him back in off of the street. As a reward Nicky finds a trick for Rod and brings him home to him. It’s all very touching.

These puppets are not always endearing cuddly little things. But they do have very expressive faces and naughty voices. “F” you, would be one. Another would be A-hole – and I haven’t even mentioned the simulated steamy sex scenes between Princeton and the Prim and proper School Teacher Kate. At one point Princeton in a moment of ecstasy says to Kate: “I don’t think you should put your finger there”. And then as the intensity continues he says loudly “Yes, yes, put your finger there.” I think some of these puppets live in my building.

The show is imaginatively staged. The set design with all of the windows, give the puppets the chance to appear on different levels making it all seem very real.

The actors amaze as they play dual roles with the puppets. Sometimes they have to manipulate two puppets at the same time. Manipulate may be a confusing term. What I mean to say is they operate the puppets and change their voices for each character in the show. Robert McClure, Kelli Sawyer and Christian Anderson are on the stage pretty much all of the time, and they work their butts off. The Puppets have it easy, they just have to sit on the actor’s hands. Also good is Carla Renata as Gary Coleman. Angela AI as Christmas Eve is a hoot and Cole Porter as Brian the would-be comedian rounds out the main characters. Also engaging were Maggie Lakis, Seth Rettberg and Danielle K. Thomas in the ensemble.

All in all, you can’t tear yourself away from these enchanting characters. It’s sweet, funny, irreverent and endearing.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (Highest rating) – trademarked-

Jim Broche and Steve Schalchlin in “God or Merman?” Photo by Ed Krieger


God or Merman is the story of two guys who can’t make up their minds. One is a Catholic and the other is a Baptist. The Catholic has aspirations of being a pope and the Baptist from Arkansas who went to bible school wanted to become an evangelist. However, they were both entranced by Show Business. As the Catholic guy asks? “Hmm – Should I follow God, or should I turn to Showbiz? They both wear costumes, use oil, incense and props.” He decided on being on Broadway, or at least off-Broadway. The Baptist has a similar problem. He is a composer who loves to write songs and entertain. Should he follow God, or should he go with Show Business? Well, when he was in Bible College – he was harassed because he was Gay. Even Biblical students are not all love. So, off he went to follow the Yellow Brick Road to a career in Entertainment.

Later on their paths cross while on a Cruise ship. The Catholic tells us about the ship. The brochure said that this ship was the ‘sister ship’ of the Andrea Doria. It was dirty, the rooms were tiny and the service was almost non-existent. As he looks at the brochure it describes the Cabaret room in glowing terms. So he heads that way. The minute he enters he holds up his hands to shield his eyes from the bright Wall Mart lighting. In the corner was a slender man at the piano. He mused – “Gee he is kind of cute – but I am really more attracted to Strawberry Blondes.” The Piano Player also notices the Catholic in the back of the room and says to us – “But I only really like short Latino Men.”

With hurried introductions on the second night – the Catholic says to the Baptist. “Are you a Merman Queen, or a Judy Queen?” The Baptist says. “Who’s Judy?” “Close enough” — says the Catholic. “Would you like to move in with me?” And that is the way they started a 20-year. Relationship. The Catholic is Jim Brochu and the Baptist is Steve Schalchlin. And they might just be the original ‘Odd’ couple. During their years together Steve looks at the audience and says: “I hate his pajamas”. Then Jim comes out on the stage dressed in full Cardinal regalia. These were his pajamas. Jim loves Ethel Merman and sings like her. It drives Steve crazy, and he yells outs and says: “I wish you would sing in your own voice”. “This IS my own voice” – says Jim.

They later find out that the ship that was the Andrea Doria sister ship and their love boat had sunk. And that was the end of their Honeymoon ship.

Jim’s father knew a lot of Celebrities and one of them was Ethel Merman. One day when Jim was just 15-years old his father took him to Sardis in New York where all the stars used to hang out. In comes Merman and comes over to their booth and sits down. This was at the point in his life when he couldn’t make up his mind between following God — or to go with a showbiz career. “There she was, the wisest most famous star in the world who was more sought after than Uranium. Surely she could help me decide what to do.” So he looked at his idol and said: “Miss Merman. Should I pursue a religious career or pursue show business?” She looked at him and said after a few seconds “How the Hell should I know.” “See, how wise she is” – exclaimed Jim.

This show is more hilarious than I can relay on paper. You have to see it to believe it. I’m not usually an out-loud laugher. I usually just smile. But, this time I was absolutely doubled over with laughter. I could hardly catch my breath at times. It’s the freshest, most honest show I’ve seen in many a year. There are touches of “The Smothers Brothers” now and then. Especially remindful of that is the low-key Steve, who just drifts off into his music making, and talks softly. The whole evening was a beguiling celebration of love and storytelling. It’s wonderful, uplifting and fabulous fun. You’ll love it!

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (Highest Rating) –trademarked-


The ‘Help Is On The Way Shows’ just get better and better. This year’s glittering affair was a powerhouse with stars like the sexy and beguiling Susan Anton. And what a treat is was that Raul Esparza came out to sing for the packed house. He wowed the audience with the Burt Bacharach & Elvis Costello song “God Give Me Strength” from ‘Grace of My Heart’. And I needed strength after he finished. His voice is like a four lane highway – he offers a great vocal ride.

They really don’t make them like this anymore! That would be Carol Cook who is always incredibly delightful. She sang a little of “It Was a Good Time” from the movie ‘Ryan’s Daughter’. And if anyone knows how to have a good time – it would be Cook. She told a few stories about Celebs that she knows from showbiz. “One day I was crossing the street in New York. It was ‘Passover’ time and I saw Dancer Ann Miller. I said hello Annie – are you going to do anything on Passover?” She looked at me and said: “I never watch any of those game shows on T.V.” I could listen to Cook tell stories all night. She is so hilarious, and still Thrums with sexy energy. Here’s another Cook-ism. “The new ‘50’ is death.” Incredible performer!

Lucy Lawless (Zena, The Warrior Princess) on T.V. She still looks fantastic. Why isn’t someone this talented used more by Hollywood in movies and T.V. I would modestly say that she was very scantily clad on the Palace of Fine Arts Stage. Wearing only a little fringy number that moved with every move she made. I think I could safely say that she was provocative. She did “Footloose’ with Gene Reed…and the place rocked. Someone should have bottled up the steam on the stage and sold it to the highest bidder. It was a rush. I’d say it was an-eye tickling performance.

The cast members from Jersey Boys ‘hooked’ the audience. They were electrifying. By the way, I understand that Jersey Boys is sold out through the end of the run, except for maybe a few cancellations that may come along. Idol Finalist Kimberly Locke did a great “San Francisco”. Much better than Jeanette MacDonald. And one of the most surprising moments of the evening was Jai Rodriguez who sang “I Am Changing” from ‘Dreamgirls’. It was emotional and charted new territory.

Jan Wahl, Ken Henderson and Joe Seiler gave opening remarks. Wahl looked terrific. She seemed to have slimmed down – and her face, dare I say it, looked a little tighter. She looked great.

There will be more “Help” shows coming up soon – and I will let you know about them. I already know that the Mama Mia Cast will be at one of them.

Don’t bite your nails. Take my advice and go to see these great shows.

Be corrosively funny: Write to leehartgraveshow@yahoo.com.

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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