THE RIBEYE BROS. BRING THE MEAT ‘N MORE, TO BLOCK PARTY & BEYOND

The Ribeye Brothers showcase some prime cuts during a prime slot at the Bond Street Block Party on Saturday, September 14…then return to Asbury town for a special “Taint at The Saint” evening on September 19. Photo by William DeVizia for Cool Dad Music

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), September 12, 2019

 They’re the indoor/outdoor carpeting that ties the music-mad ROOM together — connecting the 20th century Shore scene with the hypercurrent hipsterverse; the roots-rock traditionalists with the alt-rock trailblazers; the experience of playing before international stadium-size audiences, with the bump ‘n grind of an old neighborhood go-go bar.

Here in the Local Summer interlude — when many of the season’s busiest bands curtail their activities, and some of the Shore’s most venerable venues up and fold their patio umbrellas for a long winter’s nap — the year-round institution that is The Ribeye Brothers is perhaps more visible and audible than ever; pushing the open-air envelope well into the post-Labor Day afterbirth, seeking out and exploring strange new places to play, and boldly Going There with an all-new, as yet untitled, recorded music project.

Pretty ambitious and confident for a group whose thematic stock in trade has been the musical tale of woe — short and bitterly sweet blasts of “detached garage” rock with titles like “Drinkin’ and Stinkin,” “Swagger Turns to Stagger,” “D.W.I.,” “Disappointment Punch,” “Wrong End of the Leash,” and that crossover crowdpleaser, “Sh*t Car.” Working a side of the street once occupied by classic “tears in my beer” country, the songs of former Monster Magnet men Tim Cronin and Jon Kleiman are vroomed-up vignettes of rejection, recidivism and ruin, narrated by characters whose dreams of grandeur have been curb-jawed by store-brand booze, romantic betrayals, suicidal brooding, and an unerring instinct for the Bad Choice.

Even when Cronin and company channel Andy Griffith’s megalomaniacal Face in the Crowd character in “Lonesome Rhodes” (a purported favorite of no less a public figure than The Boss), or landing songs on the soundtracks of network TV shows (Criminal Minds) and indie features (Let Me Down Hard), there’s a fatalistic (but fun) vein of Eeyore-attitude soaked into every fiber of “the band who hates themselves more than you do.” But, whether the Sons of Mrs. Ribeye are stomping out a brand new number or cutting up on covers of old Black Sabbath (or very old Pink Floyd), the fact remains that, for the band’s devoted audience, a Ribeyes roast is a guaranteed and garage-rested good time — or, as this correspondent has said before, “the most raucously pounding pity party you’ll ever encounter.”

Though still a Red Bank-based band by pedigree, the lineup of Cronin (lead vocals), Brent Sisk (guitar), Kleiman (guitar, vocals), Joe Calandra (bass), and Neil O’Brien (drums) can stake just as much of a claim to the coverage area served by your friendly neighborhood Coaster and Link newsweeklies, with the latter three hanging their hats these days in Neptune, Eatontown, and Asbury Park respectively. In fact, Asbury habitues might better know O’Brien under his alter ego DJ Foggy Notion, with the man and his milk crates remaining a fixture at Anchor’s Bend, Salvation Lounge, AP Yacht Club and numerous other nightspots (in addition to the odd participation in performance-art events like Andrew Demirjian’s Lines in the Sand, presented on the AP beach this past August by DC’s Transformer collective).

This Saturday, September 14, the Brothers (with adopted sibling Sweet Joey filling in on drums) are among the featured acts taking it outside at the 2019 Bond Street Block Party, the annual presentation of the Bond Street Complex venues (about which more momentarily) that commandeers the stretch of Bond between Cookman and Mattison Aves for a festival of bands, beers and BBQ that runs from 1 to 10 pm. Then on the evening of Thursday, September 19, a busy-season Neil rejoins his mates; once more steering the back of the firetruck as the band opens for the satirically satanic stylings of Witch Taint (‘the most extreme Norwegian Black Metal band from Gary, Indiana ever, probably”) at that downtown boxcar berthplace of rock, chief engineer Scotty Stamper’s The Saint..

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GARDEN STATE FILMFEST CULTIVATES SOME JERSEY TOMATOES

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch NJ), March 21, 2019

“It’s an honor. An honor!

The preceding represents the entire transcript of a speech delivered by Christopher Lloyd, as he quickly accepted an award from the producers of the 2018 Garden State Film Festival— and just as quickly made his way out the door of the festival’s host venue, the onetime Neptune High School building reborn in recent years as the Jersey Shore Arts Center.

A vividly familiar presence in big-budget Hollywood properties like the Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family, Star Trek III and Roger Rabbit — and a serial Emmy winner for his work in Taxi and other projects — the veteran character man was briefly present in Ocean Grove to promote his participation in an indie thriller being screened that evening, and to help welcome the festival as it went “back to the future,” in a return to the community that it called home for the first 11 years of its existence.

Founded in 2003 by Diane Raver and the late Robert Pastorelli (an Emmy nominee as Eldin on the original Murphy Brown), the GSFF spent four years in Atlantic City before relocating once more to a fast-morphing Asbury Park and neighboring precincts. By that time, the city had spawned several all-new entertainment venues (including the  expanded ShowRoom arthouse cinema); welcomed aboard a slew of new concert series and special events — and given birth to a high-energy, high-profile Music and Film Festival whose upcoming schedule in April 2019 boasts appearances by, among others, writer-producer-director Peter Farrelly (fresh off his  double Oscar win for Green Book).

But while Raver’s festival has welcomed such well known guests as Glenn Close, Ed Asner, Batman producer Michael Uslan, That 70s Show actor Kurtwood Smith, On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg and half the cast of The Sopranos beneath its tent in past editions, its roots remain grounded in the still-fertile soil of the independent filmmaking movement — with a particular emphasis on the plump and flavorful “tomatoes” cultivated by the creative community of the Garden State.

And when the 17th annual GSFF presents its smorgasbord of international fare beginning this coming Wednesday, March 27, the guest list will carry a pronounced Jersey accent, with special recognitions given to a set of screen performers with deep local connections — and a keynote event that once again explores our seemingly bottomless fascination with the legacy of HBO’s Sopranos series.

Screening at 7 pm Wednesday, and hosted at the JS Arts Center, My Dinner With Alan finds writers Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz — longtime television correspondents for the Star-Ledger, and authors of the book The Soprano Sessions— discussing the lasting impact of David Chase’s groundbreaking, Jersey-centric project (among various other topics) inside Holsten’s, the Bloomfield restaurant that served as the setting for the show’s still-controversial finale.

Sepinwall and Seitz are scheduled to be present for a post-screening panel discussion with director Kristen Fraga, joined for the occasion by a trio of Sopranos actors: Artie Pasquale, Federico Castelluccio, and Dan Grimaldi (famous for playing both Parisi twins, and familiar to followers of Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company for his roles in Mercy and The Jag). While it’s included in the festival’s weekend pass option, the event (which features a book signing pre-order option for $25) also offers a $15 individual ticket at brownpapertickets.com/event/4094178.

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IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER: LIGHT OF DAY KEEPS THE AP HOME FIRES LIT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 17 2019

To hear the man tell it, “Longevity is a benchmark of greatness” — and given that the speaker is Tony Pallagrosi, the words are no mere fridge-magnet platitude. After all, this is the veteran music scene mover ‘n shaker whose unimpeachable cred extends from his days as one of the cats in the band (The Shots, The Asbury Jukes), to host of some much-missed Shore nightspots (The FastLane, Xanadu), to co-founder of major concert venues and promotion entities (Starland Ballroom, Concerts East), to manager of The Weeklings — and quite possibly all the way to “the other side,” thanks to Asbury Angels, the musical memorial initiative that he chairs.

Pallagrosi, however, isn’t referring to himself, or to any of those aforementioned feathers in his cap, but to the endeavor that may ultimately stand as his most lasting legacy: Light of Day, the music-driven fundraising vehicle that’s  illuminated some of the darkest winter days and nights in this City of Summers for well nigh two decades.

Co-founded by Pallagrosi with music promo/ management pro Bob Benjamin as an awareness resource for Parkinson’s Disease research — and inspired by Benjamin’s own diagnosis with the disorder — the annual slate of star-studded happenings grew out of a 40th birthday party for Bob at the Stone Pony; taking its name from the Springsteen soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” on its way to becoming a sprawling affair that’s spanned several continents, major North American cities and additional satellite events throughout the calendar year.

Of course, along the way Light of Day became indelibly identified with the stamp of Benjamin’s long-time friend Bruce Springsteen — not just via the organization’s name, but in the very real presence of The Boss as an onstage participant and de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. As an undeniable draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz each year), the Bard of the boardwalk has generously shared the stage with a core cast of frequent-flyer performers (including Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Steve Forbert), as well as drop-in guest stars that have ranged from Southside Johnny, Darlene Love and Gary US Bonds, to Light of Day movie star (plus high-profile person with Parkinson’s) Michael J. Fox, and  The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore.

While the nonprofit Light of Day Foundation is a year-round entity upon which the sun never sets, the heart and soul of the positively charged enterprise remains LOD Winterfest, the mid-January jamboree of activity that commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park during the post-holiday “off season” interlude when most other Shore towns are deep into a long winter’s nap. Having offered up a couple of preliminary pace-setter events on January 13 (see the feature on Bob Burger in last week’s Coaster), the circus comes to town in full force for a long weekend that begins tonight, January 17, with a choice of tuneful entertainments that includes a “Hall of Fame Jam” featuring veteran Bruce drummer Vini Lopez (Langosta Lounge), a special edition of Sandy Mack’s Wonder Jam at the Wonder Bar, and an official kickoff concert at downtown’s House of Independents that spotlights such next-gen talents as Williams Honor and Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato.

“No other town this small has such a vibrant music scene,” says Pallagrosi. “And at the end of the day, I want everyone involved.”

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LOOKING BACK ON THE BEST OF LOCAL STAGES, 2018

El Chupacabra terrorizes the alternate reality of a cartoonist turned comic book hero, in the 2018 Two River Theater production EL COQUÍ ESPECTACULAR AND THE BOTTLE OF DOOM. Photo by Richard Termine

Published in the Asbury Park Press, December 28 2018

Star-powered casts — and a set of new and diverse voices — set the pace for the live theater stages of Monmouth and Ocean counties in the calendar year 2018. The area served by the Asbury Park Press continued to draw the attentions and the talents of some top-shelf pros, even as its many creative crannies proved that the most interesting things can occur in the most unlikely of venues. Here are a handful of the Great Performances and all-around Good Things that we happened across in the year that was.

New dramas

Bemoaning the fact that comic book characters seem to be hijacking the entire mass culture? Well, get over it, because back at the top of the year, Red Bank’s Two River Theater set the pace with a “superhero play” of supercharged energy: the intriguingly titled El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom. Emerging from Two River’s annual Crossing Borders festival of new Latinx plays, the play by Matthew Barbot succeeded where the mighty Spidey and Superman fell short in their respective musical misadventures; investing its story (of a young unemployed Puerto Rican-American artist turned self-styled costumed crimefighter) with a choreographed visual verve that played, under the direction of Jose Zayas, like a musical minus the music. Throw in a layered plot that segued smoothly between the alternate realities of the dual-identity protagonist, with projected images that heightened the shift between parallel worlds, and the result was a dazzling cultural satire that compared favorably with the company’s trailblazing premiere production of the musical phenomenon “Be More Chill.”

Over at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, some new faces arrived in town with April’s production of Chloe Hung’s Issei, He Say — and those newcomers had a compelling story to tell, in the Chinese-Canadian TV writer’s semi-autobiographical account of an immigrant family’s struggles with assimilation, aspirations, and the next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman of Japanese descent. As the play’s 12 year old central character, Christina Liang headed a superb cast in a drama that placed a perfectly constructed, intimately scaled frame around the big issues of blinding prejudice, national tragedies, home-front secrets, and the things people use to forge alliances in the darkness. Continue reading

MERRY CHRIS: PINNELLA SOUNDS A SEASON’S KEYNOTE UP AT TIM’S

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, November 29 2018

Ask any classical vocal artist or big band singer you happen to see, and they’ll tell you that it takes a special kind of guts and gumption to step out in front of the “freight train” that is a symphony orchestra or sizeable jazz organization — to take the spotlight at the helm of a precision music machine whose hundreds of man-hours of rehearsal and preparation now hinge upon that solitary figure at center stage.

Sounds pretty scary — but for Chris Pinnella it’s the stuff of natural habitat; an environment that the versatile vocalist has thrived in, whether performing with the 48-piece Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea, leading his own combos of anywhere from 8 to 15 players, or (for several tours of North America and Europe) lending his finely honed skills to the prog-rock/ classical-crossover locomotive known as Trans-Siberian Express.

That association with the late Paul O’Neill’s spectacularly scaled project netted the native of Manasquan a platinum record (for his contribution to the album The Lost Christmas Eve), and a chance to perform for an audience of nearly a million people, during a particularly raucous New Year’s Eve in Berlin. But while Pinnella is still “keeping very much in touch” with the TSE crew, the past few seasons have seen him returning to his Shore roots; becoming a full time resident of downtown Asbury Park with his family (including a three year old daughter); reconnecting with the St. Peter’s organization under the baton of the celebrated Father Alphonse Stephenson. In the process the seasoned young performer — a singer whose influences run from the epic arias of Pavarotti, to the elegant jazz phrasings of Tony Bennett and the next-generation concert hall mastery of Boccelli and Groban — built his brand as a bandleader through gigs at venues that range from such big-city nightspots as the Rainbow Room, Feinstein’s and Birdland, to local landmarks like the Algonquin Arts Center, Great Auditorium, House of Independents, and Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.

It was at Mr. McLoone’s space-age saucer that Pinnella did “something I never did before” just a couple of weekends back; stepping out from his big-band comfort zone to join singer-songwriter-guitarist Stephen Delopoulos of Burlap to Cashmere in a rare acoustic solo set that found the pop singer “taking my stuff and stripping it way down to just piano or guitar and voice…Steve jumped in on the Bruce Springsteen song ‘If I Should Fall Behind,’ and I helped out on his song ‘Jungle Trail’.”

While the intimate event had the misfortune of falling upon a proverbially dark and stormy night, it was a successful experiment for the friends and first-time collaborators who “met at Whole Foods, and stayed in touch…it gave me the idea for a Musician’s Collective, where different musicians from all sorts of genres collaborate on projects that might fall outside their usual thing, in the spirit of creative fulfillment.”

Chris Pinnella returns once more to the Supper Club this Saturday night, December 1, for a performance that falls within more traditional parameters: his sixth annual Holiday Show, a recently minted mainstay of a room that the singer describes as “relaxed, comfortable, intimate…for me it’s home base; it was pretty much my first concert job around here.”

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A HAPPENIN’ HALLO-WEEK, IN AND AROUND ASCARY PARK

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, October 25 2018

Let other towns lay claim to being the area’s capital of Christmas cheer; home to the longest running St. Patrick’s Day celebration; scene of the most star-spangled July Fourth display. With dozens of venues in which to dance the witching hour away — and plenty of world renowned boardwalk and boulevards on which to strut one’s carefully costumed stuff — Asbury Park has a lock on the days and nights leading up to the Eve of All Hallows, making the seaside city that so famously “came back from the dead” the undisputed headquarters of Halloween festivity.

It’s an interlude that sounds an early-October keynote with the Asbury Park Zombie Walk, the annual lurch previewed in these pages a few weeks back. And in between there are events like this past Saturday’s Haunted Carousel Dance Party, the gala-ghoul benefit for local charities from which images can be seen at ahauntedcarousel.com. But from the moment the sun goes down tonight, October 25 — and on through the moment the clock strikes midnight on November 1, the Day of the Dead — both the legendary haunted landmarks and the shiny new haunts of the greater Asbury area are where the sights, the sounds, and the seriously fun cosplay can be found.

CONCERTS

On the Asbury boards, the major concert event in the season of the witch is Convention Hell — and in this year’s edition of the Hall-rocking happening, the venerable venue welcomes the jam-circuit juggernaut Pink Talking Fish, a band that — as the name implies — triangulates a tribute to the collected works of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish. On Saturday night, the four-piece group and friends will be saluting Floyd’s epic album Dark Side of the Moon in sound and light — and joining in the spirit of dress-up fun are three local favorites portraying acts who appeared at Convention Hall in summers past: Wild Adriatic (as Led Zeppelin), Waiting For Mongo (as James Brown and his Famous Flames), and The Burns (as Jim Morrison and The Doors). Doors open at 7 pm, with tickets ($20 advance; $25 d.o.s.)  at the box office or via apboardwalk.com.

While the Convention Hell show is open only to concertgoers age 21 and up, fans of all ages can take it over to the headquarters of the Asbury Park Music Foundation (in the Lakehouse complex on Lake Avenue) on Saturday night, where from 7 to 11 pm the annual Diamond Concerts Halloween Show presents a bill headlined by the up-and-coming Brick Township-based band The Ones You Forgot. Continue reading

10/24: Fear Factors and Trans-formed Actors

CarrieThere WILL Be Blood: Emily Chester is America’s telekinetic teen, as Nick Montesano’s NENAproductions resurrects CARRIE: THE MUSICAL for one more prom dance, beginning this weekend in Ocean Grove.

The breathlessly anticipated resurrection of one of the most fabled flops in musical theater history…a deep-fathom thinkpiece by Edward Albee, on display at a community church-playhouse…an Obie winner pitches a double-header in Red Bank…all this plus edgy experiments in the suburbs, a cask of Poe to go, and an Evita that shows her professional roots. THAT’s what’s going up on local stages in the days and weeks to come…and THAT’s why a night out on the aisles is more than just Neil Simon anymore (not that there’s anything wrong with that; our friends at Monmouth Players are right now presenting an entire ambitious “Season of Simon” at their newly reborn and rebranded Navesink Arts Center).

CARRIE On Screaming: Townsfolk tremble at her name, and not simply because she packs the gazebo-leveling wallop of a thousand Sandy Katrina Tsunamis in every Sissy-Spacek staredown. No, while America can’t seem to get its fill of Stephen King’s tortured telekinetic teen Carrie White (witness this month’s latest multiplex makeover), it’s CARRIE: THE MUSICAL that’s had Broadway bravehearts whimpering in the wings, since its megamillion-dollar 1988 debut went down in flames after just five performances. Enter Nick Montesano, producer/ director/ impresario of NENAproductions Theater Project — and a fearless sort who’s never shied from energizing the community-theater stage with some of the most unorthodox items from Sondheim (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE), McNally (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, CORPUS CHRISTI) and more (AVENUE Q, URINETOWN, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER). Nick and his NENA company have resurrected the dark tunefest (book by screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen; songs by the Oscar-winning team of Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford) for a welcome new look, in an engagement that opens Friday, October 25 and runs for two weekends (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with a 3 pm Sunday matinee on November 3) inside the prom-ready auditorium of Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center; the old high school at the corner of Main and Main.

Authentic seventeen year old Emily Chester takes on the title role, with Jennifer Nelson in the vivid part of Carrie’s holy-roller mom. They’re supported under Montesano’s direction by a troupe of NENA regulars (Jessica Berger, Jeff Caplan, Arnold Teixera) and newcomers for a “classic tale of bloodsport and revenge” that, underneath the power ballads and the pig blood, is “a story of bullying more timely than ever.” With that in mind, the cast will be  joined after the October 26 performance by Jessica De Koninck of the New Jersey State Anti-Bullying Task-Force, for a discussion on “the state of bullying, its heightened effect on young people in our area, and as it relates to new and progressing HIB laws.” Tickets ($25) from ticketleap.com or at 732.988.1007.

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NENA’s Naughty, Bawdy Puppet Party

Cast members from the “rehearsal” troupe await their “Q” in the private dressing area, as NENAproductions prepares to stage the puppet-powered musical satire AVENUE Q, for the first time in NJ. (photos by Arnold Teixeira)

It was just a couple of seasons back that producer-director Nick Montesano scored a coup on behalf of his NENAproductions Theater Project, when the nonprofessional stage troupe became the first such company in New Jersey to snag the sought-after rights to RENT, the Tony winning game-changer that’s arguably become this generation’s “must” show.

With original Broadway cast member Fredi Walker-Browne even making an appearance, it was a genuine feather in the cap of the resident theatrical company at Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center — that old-school (literally; it’s an old school) venue whose auditorium has hosted such NENA specialties as Stephen Sondheim’s rarely revived Merrily We Roll Along.

For the first production of the company’s milestone 10th anniversary season, Montesano has once again become the first on the block to cherrypick a winner — this one a Tony Triple Crown’er (Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book) that’s been hailed as one of the funniest, most inventive shows of the era — and which continues to pack ’em in Off Broadway long after ending its acclaimed Broadway run.

So why, in the impresario’s words, has pretty much everyone else in the region “shied away” from doing their own production of Avenue Q, a show that’s been described as “part flesh, part felt, and packed with heart?”

Maybe it has something to do with the book by Jeff Whitty — a cheerfully R-rated satire that manages to touch upon everything from racism, self-loathing and homelessness to internet porn, homosexual denial and high-decibel sex. Or, it could be the score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, highlighted by “It Sucks to Be Me,”  “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today” and “The Internet is for Porn.”  Or maybe it’s just the fact that eleven of the show’s fourteen characters are portrayed as puppets. Muppet-y, puppety, funny, funky, foul-mouthed puppets.

There’s Princeton, the primary protagonist; a college grad whose search for meaning and purpose — and his ongoing financial doldrums — lead him to squalid, ungentrified Avenue Q, an alternate-universe, “outer outer boroughs” Sesame Street, and not coincidentally the only NYC neighborhood he can afford to live in.

Then there are the neighbors in the neighborhood — a collection of multi-hued “humans” and furry monsters that include affable Nicky and his resolutely Republican, closeted gay roommate Rod (think Ernie and Bert, natch); Trekkie Monster, who consumes online porn as others gobble cookies; plus sweet-natured Kate Monster, slutty Lucy and the ever-misguided Bad Idea Bears. Cast members Sean Openshaw, Bill Rogers, Chris Tomaino, Joseph York, Jessica Berger, Arnold Teixeira and Amanda Munice manipulate and give voice to the colorful characters, under the guidance of Montesano and musical director Jeff Brown.

The wild world of Avenue Q also features a few denizens who are presented as human actors rather than puppets — unemployed comic Brian (Jay Casale), his fiancee the failed therapist Christmas Eve (Jessica Murray) and a building super who just happens to be former child star (and former living person) Gary Coleman (Saman Boyd).

Created by Pennsylvania-based Character Translations and inspired by Rick Lyon‘s designs for the original production, the Avenue Q puppets are like a whole cast of nerf-nosed divas; arriving by special delivery packed in custom steamer trunks; accompanied by precise rules for storage (they’ve got their own private dressing room in the spacious basement of the JSAC building) and handling (white cotton gloves must be worn at all times). They even travel with their own understudies — a full set of “rehearsal puppets” to be used as stand-ins for the fancier, better accessorized “performance puppets.”

UpperWETside was pleased and privileged to have a tour behind the scenes at Avenue Q — including a look at Montesano’s typically awesome, quirkily detailed two-story set — an irreverent and hilarious show that’s being rated “WTF” for a Swear Jar full of naughty language, simulated foam-rubber fucking and full-on, howdy-doody puppet nudity. Here’s what Montesano and Teixeira had to say…

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