THE BASICS: Broadway’s long running, “muppets for adults” musical has been revived by Musicalfare Theatre, in collaboration with the Shea’s Buffalo organization. The present incarnation plays weekends at the 710 Main Theatre (old Studio Arena) through April 24th. AVENUE Q, with its single intermission, runs approximately two hours and ten minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place on… Avenue Q, a second (or maybe third) class street in the Bronx where the rents are just low enough for “hungry” young newcomers to the Big Apple. We follow the muppet Princeton from his arrival, college diploma in hand, searching for a paycheck and a purpose. Soon we know all the residents on the block—a mixture of people and muppets. Most are looking for a break, some for their vanished optimism. Avenue Q is where youthful dreams and high spirits meet life’s cold, hard realities. It’s funny, raunchy, bittersweet, with a standard “boy meets girl” story for a motor.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: A little more about the show: It’s a musical. The songs are by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, the book by Jeff Whitty. Apparently Lopez and Marx collaborated on both the music and the lyrics. The music is peppy, but melodically challenged. Don’t expect to leave the theater whistling anything. The lyrics are, well, witty, and so is Jeff Whitty’s book (Yes, Whitty’s witty). AVENUE Q riffs Sesame Street in a most engaging fashion. As I think about its qualities, the words that come to mind most often are “loopy” and “naughty”.
How else would you describe a musical that features the likes of “It Sucks To Be Me”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “The Internet Is For Porn” and “Schadenfreude”? The ebullient “Loud As The Hell You Want” accompanies a scene of explicit muppet sex (not that you see much) between Princeton and his sweetheart, Kate Monster. While the play handles decidedly adult topics (there’s a big subplot about the muppet Rod’s “coming out”), there is a welcome lack of profanity. You’re not going to hear the F word being tossed around by the Avenue Q’ers.
You’re not going to hear the F word being tossed around by the Avenue Q’ers.
How do they “do” the muppets, you may ask? They are waist-up creations, operated and voiced by actor/puppeteers. The largest, Trekkie (think Cookie) Monster requires the talents of two humans. Maria Droz spends a good part of her evening silently animating Trekkie’s right arm. She gets a chance to prove her mettle however, bringing Mrs. Thistletwat (it’s naughty, I told you) and one of the Bad Idea Bears to life. Jacob Albarella voices Trekkie, Rod’s friend Nicky, and the other impish Bad Idea Bear. He does a wonderful job, and so does Mark Sacco, who animates Princeton and the closeted Rod. Best of all is Amy Jackiel, who is clearly having a ball bringing sweet Kate Monster and her skanky rival Lucy to life. While the Musicalfare puppeteers are a good deal more “present” than the creators apparently intended, watching the pretty Ms. Jackiel’s hyperexpressive face light up again and again was the highlight of my evening.
Jeffrey Coyle is pretty good as the flopping comedian, Brian. And petite Dominique Kempf does a nice job playing Gary Coleman, the supposed super of the apartment complex. Why they didn’t revamp or eliminate this part after the former child star’s sad death in 2010 is beyond me. Kinda creepy.
Charmagne Chi brings a powerhouse voice to the role of the therapist-without-clients, Christmas Eve. I didn’t find her all that funny, however, and her attempt at a Japanese accent made a number of her lines unintelligible. Surely there is an Asian talent in WNY’s deep acting pool who would have better fit the bill?
From a production viewpoint, AVENUE Q is a stunner. Producer Randall Kramer and director/choreographer Doug Weyand have both done themselves proud. Chris Schenk’s Sesame-like street set, well lit by Chris Cavanaugh, wins us over from the outset. The various muppets, designed and constructed by Adam Kreutinger, are a joy to behold. Short animated sequences, projected on a billboard, are an added delight. (These apparently come with the license to do the show.) The invisible band, led by keyboardist Griffin Kramer, has a piped-in sound, and does drown out the lyrics now and again. The musicians provide plenty of vitality, however.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!