BWW Reviews: Naughty Puppet Goodness at Balagan's AVENUE Q
There's a certain amount of pressure when a theater company becomes the first in the area to produce a big name show locally. Yes, it's a coup to be the first to get the rights (and Balagan seems to be cornering the market on that this season) but they also need to do the show justice or else, why bother? This is why what Balagan is pulling off with their current production of "Avenue Q" is all the more spectacular. Not only have they put up one of the new hot shows but they've done it in a way that rivals any tour of the show and created an outstandingly fun time that will leave you grinning all the way home.
In case you've not ventured down to "Avenue Q", and you are missing out, it's basically and adult version of "Sesame Street". Yes there are puppets and they teach life lessons through song but these are not the wholesome Henson Muppets you're familiar with. The puppets have issues like being unable to pay their bills, coming out of the closet and figuring out exactly how loud you can be when you're having sex. This is NOT the show to bring the kids to. The puppets (and their human friends) swear, get naked and yes, have sex. Just like normal people.
We center on the new resident to Avenue Q, Princeton (Heath Saunders) who's just graduated college and now needs to make his way in the world and find his purpose. Upon arriving he meets the other denizens of the neighborhood. We have the sweet and single Kate Monster (Kirsten Delohr Helland), the squabbling roommates Nicky and Rod (Brian Lange and Justin Huertas), the struggling couple Christmas Eve and Brian (Diana Huey and Danny Kam), the porn obsessed Trekkie Monster (Robert Scherzer), and of course the super of the building, Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman … as played by Rashawn Scott). And they're all there to help Princeton find his way, even though obstacles like the malevolent Bad Idea Bears (Katie Griffith and Ryan McCabe) and Lucy The Slut (Kate Jaeger) who's … well … slutty, keep getting in the way.
The cast is just plain superb all around. Saunders infuses Princeton with an honest sincerity and the pixie like deLohr Helland adds adorkable sweetness to Kate almost stealing the protagonist spotlight away from Princeton. Kam and Huey are hilarious in their human roles and Huey practically brings the house down along with deLohr Helland with their rendition of "The More You Ruv Someone". Scott completely inhabits the spirit of Gary Coleman right down to the signature catch phrase and then makes him all the better by lending her incredible voice to the role. The always hysterical Jaeger shows off a bit of her chameleonic tendencies by nailing two very different puppet roles, the outrageous Lucy and the uptight Mrs. Thistletwat. Griffith and McCabe are deliciously evil as the troublemaking Bad Idea Bears. You could almost hear the audience groan with delight each time they entered as if to comment "Oh God, now what?" Huertas is wonderful as the uptight closeted Republican Rod and is matched perfectly with the laid back Nicky played by Lange. And Scherzer is a delight as the perverted Trekkie and completely nails the character and the voice, as do Lange and deLohr Helland in their roles. I almost thought I was listening to the originals whenever they spoke and yet they still made the characters engaging and their own and an utter joy to watch.
Director Eric Ankrim continues to solidify his name as one of the best directors in town. No matter the show, he always manages to show off a very clear and concise vision of the piece and keeps every moment focused and in check. Add into that amazing music direction from Chris DiStefano, a killer set from Ron Darling and Ahren Buhmann and some fabulous puppets from Russ Walko and Balagan has yet another winner on their hands. And they just recently added a few more shows since tickets are selling so fast so get out there and get yours before this one gets away. Don't make me spell it out for you. S-O-L-D-O-U-T!
"Avenue Q" from Balagan performs at the Erickson Theatre through December 15th. For tickets or information contact the Balagan box office at 206-329-1050 or visit them online at www.balagantheatre.org.
Photo credits: Galen Wicks