Avenue Q and Jack White: Memories of New York and Going Solo

This weekend, check out Avenue Q and all its puppet nudity and innuendo at the Playground in the Tech Village. Visit www.duluthplayground.com for showtimes and dates.

It isn’t often that one is given the opportunity to see a play on Broadway and then a few months later have it played in their hometown, but I was just so lucky. 

The production values differed a bit, but the overall quality of presentation was great. For those who are unfamiliar with the play, as I was prior to Broadway this summer, it is a riff on Sesame Street. You have Bert and Ernie, who are named Rod and Nicky and toy with the notion of being gay, Trekkie Monster, who is a porn-addicted Cookie Monster, and Gary Coleman as well, who is a washed up Gary Coleman. 

In New York the actor playing Coleman was a woman, which wasn’t really that funny as she was just trying to be Coleman. The biggest laugh I had from Q up here was that Coleman was played by Gabriel Mayfield. Mayfield, who stood well over six feet tall, was about three feet taller than Gary Coleman was in real life. I loved the joke and it made the show for me.

Gary Coleman in the play is the maintenance man for the apartment that all of the characters on Avenue Q live in. That also was the biggest difference between Broadway and Duluth, the size and scope of the set. The Playground doesn’t allow large sets, but it was impressive how the cast made due. 

Avenue Q is based primarily on a character named Princeton, who is just out of college. He ends up on a far-out street with people teetering on the edge of utter failure. As he meets the people of Avenue Q, he discovers himself and adjusts to life after college.

In the play, Princeton sings a song titled, “What Do You Do with a B.A. In English?” It captures the sentiments of a college graduate facing the unknown of having responsibility in life. 

The Bad Idea Bears pop up every once in a while to give Princeton bad ideas. One example would be when Princeton wants to go buy a few beers, and the Bad Idea Bears argued that a larger amount of beer would be a better buy. They pop up throughout the play, coaxing the actors to make poor decisions.

Trekkie Monster was better in the Playground production than it was on Broadway. Eamon Hill made the character come to life and had much more depth than just singing a song about internet porn. In the play, Kate Monster (Louisa Guggisberg), an admirer of Princeton’s, sings a song about how the “internet is really, really great.” At that point Trekkie cuts her off and yells out, “For porn!” It was a great song that really makes you laugh. The timing of Hill and Guggisberg was dead on.

Other song highlights were Gary Coleman’s song about everyone admitting to being a bit racist, the cast performing together about how it sucks to be them, and Ernie, or Nicky (Nate St. Germain), sings a song to Bert, or Rod (Cory Regnier), about how they would still be friends if Rod turned out to be gay.

The puppets were very well done in the Duluth production. Originally I thought seeing a play that is a dirty version of Sesame Street would be kind of lame. The songs are what hold the play together and you quickly forget that the puppets are being controlled by actors.

Stop the presses, Jack White is going solo.

When I was in New York this summer, Avenue Q was the first performance I saw in the city. It was early in the week of our stay, and my wife was lamenting the next day about how we hadn’t seen any celebrities yet. A few days later, that changed to epic proportions when we met Robin Williams, Liam Gallagher, Kevin James, Daniel Radcliff, the Today Show crew, and my idol Jack White of The White Stripes.

I was a bit jealous when my wife got to meet her idol, tween heartthrob Liam Gallagher of Oasis. The last day of the trip I got even as we were able to meet Jack White and Stephen Colbert at an impromptu performance a few blocks from our hotel. 

Jack White to me is a living incarnation of Jimi Hendrix mixed with David Bowie. He keeps the blues alive and has been my favorite musician since 2003. Back then he was fronting The White Stripes with his ex-wife/”sister” Meg White. 

I finally got to see the White Stripes in 2005, but missed out in 2007 when the band broke up mid-tour. In 2006 and 2008 I saw him perform with the Raconteurs, and in 2009 and 2010 I saw him drum for The Dead Weather four times. 

At all of the shows, I tried to meet him afterward, but until 2010 I struck out. Finally, in that year he played First Avenue, and my wife spotted him heading to his van after the show. Unfortunately, I turned into Chris Farley from that SNL sketch where he interviews Paul McCartney. I stuttered and just told him how many shows I had seen him perform in. He said, “Cool,” and gave me nothing for my review of the show. 

Later in the evening, a random drunken fan wrote on their $600,000 tour bus, “Jack White Sucks.” I filmed the manager for White, the lead singer of the band, Allison Mosshart, and the police all giving statements. White’s manager, Lalo, pulled me aside and told me if I didn’t publish the story or the video he would give me a few quotes and have White sign a CD for me. 

His quotes were topical, but when I asked him if the White Stripes would ever tour again he said, “Maybe.” A few days later, White posted on the White Stripes website that the band was retiring.

This news was heartbreaking at the time, but when I met White again in New York this summer I wanted to ask him in person if he would go solo. I also told my wife to ask him the same question in case he didn’t answer me. 

When I asked him if he was going solo he said, “You never know.” My wife asked him the same question a few minutes later and he explained that he was there today performing solo. The show he was doing was a strange one that day, but it was an exciting event to get the opportunity to be a part of.

The performance was the only show of the Stephen Colbert tour with The Black Belles. White had driven his Rolling Record Store to New York and was basically doing a promotion with Colbert. White only sang the National Anthem, but Colbert performed his single “Charlene” with The Black Belles.

My wife came home today and told me to visit White’s website for Third Man Records and check out the announcement. It read, “We at Third Man Records are very excited and proud to announce, along with our partners Columbia and XL Recordings, Jack Whites’ debut album Blunderbuss to be released on April 23/24.”

So after watching White play the drums for the last three years in The Dead Weather and waiting patiently at shows for him to play one song on guitar, the moment has come. A solo album is in the works.

“Love Interruption” is the first released tune from the album and already takes one back to the White Stripes sound. TMR.com wrote, “We’ll be releasing ‘Love Interruption’ on 7” vinyl with non-album B Side ‘Machine Gun Silhouette’ on February 7th, but is available now as a pre-order.”

This works out perfectly for me, as I just bought a jukebox on Sunday that plays 45 rpm records.  White has made a resurgence of the 7-inch by releasing singles that are multi-colored and only doing small runs. I’ve been looking at jukeboxes for months to play my Third Man Records 7-inch records on, and now I just have to wait for it to be brought up here. 

My search began with Seeburgs down in the Twin Cities, and I missed a great early AY100 from the early 1960s by a day. The jukebox I decided on was a 1965 Seeburg Discotheque. You can’t see the records, but the colors fit my love of the 1960s.

To learn more about Avenue Q, visit www.duluthplayground.org. If you would like to hear Jack White’s new song, visit his site at www.ThirdManRecords.com.