BWW Reviews: Muppets, Music, and Mayhem Mark AVENUE Q At York Little Theatre
Is there more fun possible than seeing "Sesame Street" on steroids or "The Muppet Show" on mushrooms? There almost certainly isn't, which is why AVENUE Q was so beloved by America, and then our friends overseas, so quickly. With a fast-paced book by Jeff Whitty and clever music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, this mixed cast of humans and puppets always leaves audiences laughing at their own behavior, so clearly mirrored on stage. At York Little Theatre, Tatiana Dalton's directing retains the energy of the original productions, with the same familiar-to-Avenue-Q-lovers puppets we've come to know and love.
There's Rod, investment banker and lover of 1940's musicals. There's his hapless roommate and former college friend, Nicky. Sweetly girlish Kate Monster helps teach young children, while Trekkie Monster stays at home with his computer and his stash of computer porn. And our young and befuddled star, Princeton, is, as ever, searching for his purpose in life. Meanwhile, human friends Brian the unemployed comic, his wife, Christmas Eve (an unemployed multiple-degree therapist), and apartment building superintendent Gary Coleman – yes, that Gary Coleman – both assist the puppets and distract them from their plans and schemes.
There's plenty of plot in AVENUE Q, tons of it, but a somewhat harder-to-grasp theme. It is, however, a necessary one, and it's that modern childhood does modern adults no favors. A steady diet of "Sesame Street" and other optimized children's programming convinces children that each of them is special and extraordinary, only to unloose them into a real world in which most existences are basically alike, and where it's difficult at best to stand out. Some people have a purpose in life, while others never find it, and, as the finale reminds us, our current state of being, whatever it is, is "only for now."
This is an incredibly complex show, both for performers and for an audience. Unlike most shows involving puppetry, including "Sesame Street" (Marx was a former intern there, and original cast members came from, some going back, to there), the puppeteers are visible on stage the whole time, wearing black so as to be less noticeable, but nonetheless present. It is a testament to how well this show works that an audience can watch a puppeteer moving his arms to manipulate a puppet while singing into a headset microphone, yet notice only the puppet for the most part. However, the puppeteers are required not only to manipulate their puppets and to sing, but also to dance around the stage as their puppet character would, and this seems to work as well. For audiences trained to seeing humans and puppets interact in the world of Jim Henson's creations and to seeing similar things in the earlier works of Sid and Marty Krofft, this is far less difficult than it would sound. We're willing to believe, because we were raised to believe.
In this production, Nicky's and Rod's handlers, Blake Aburn and Aaron Dalton, do an especially fine job not only of voicing but dancing the not-so-dynamic duo, while Josh Miller and Kaytlyn Hunt make a particularly charming pair of Bad Idea Bears. The Bad Idea Bears, the exact opposites of the angel on one's shoulder, are one of the most delightful conceits of this show, and they are carried out perfectly in this production. Olivia Mendez is a competent Gary Coleman, and Sean McComas is a fine Brian who brings great enthusiasm to his exploits in the world of stand-up comedy. Dimitra Skouras gamely manages to keep up with Brian as his fiancée/wife, Christmas Eve, especially in her ever-popular number, "The More You Ruv Someone (The More You Want To Kill Them)".
Other performances of note are Nicky's and Coleman's duet, "Schadenfreude," Princeton's and Kate's un-PC but insightful "Everone's A Little Bit Racist," and the song that went viral on the Internet, "The Internet Is For Porn." Nicky's and Rod's "If You Were Gay" (another viral Internet hit) delights as much as ever, and Rod's infamous "My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada" is sufficiently exuberant to be as unbelievable as it's intended to be – and you'll never think of Alberta or Vancouver in the same way once you've heard it.
It cannot be stressEd Strongly enough that although this show sprang from the minds of people involved with children's television, it is not a children's show. There is a certain quantity of sexual language, especially in Rod's solo and in Gary Coleman's "You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You're Making Love), and although Kate and Princeton may be puppets and not people, that's not Twister they're playing in Kate's bedroom. Teenagers will understand everything whether their parents want them to or not, and small children are likely to have questions that parents may not want to answer, so think twice before bringing younger audience members with you. It's interesting that the non-graphic homosexuality mentioned in the show is considered to be one of the themes that makes this mature viewing in YLT's eyes, when in fact it's the very blunt discussions of masturbation ("The Internet Is For Porn") and sexual activity ("My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada") and depictions of very identifiable sexual activity between puppets that are probably the real eyebrow-raisers for audience members.
AVENUE Q at York Little Theatre is a surprisingly fine production full of younger performers, barring some sound issues that may blur lyrics, causing you to perhaps miss the reassurance that the film franchise of "Twilight" is, fortunately, only for now. AVENUE Q is only through November 18 at York Little Theatre; contact www.ylt.org or call 717-854-5715 for tickets.
Photo Credit: York Little Theatre