BWW Reviews: Fantasies Come True! AVENUE Q is BACK at Austin Theatre Project
I've seen three productions of Avenue Q in my life, all of them ranging from the Broadway national tour to a local community theater performance, to Sunday's matinee performed by the Austin Theatre Project. Bottom line: Avenue Q smart, funny, and relatable show. It's crude, sometimes a bit cringe-worthy, but simultaneously downright hilarious. Throw in an equally humorous and catchy soundtrack, and it's no wonder the show won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical (beating Wicked, mind you).
Avenue Q follows Princeton (Isaac Arrieta)- a fresh-faced, right-out-college English major with a small bank balance but big dreams. Looking his purpose, he moves to the somewhat run-down but lovable Avenue Q, where he befriends superintendent Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman, played by Michelle Alexander), Christmas Eve (June Julian), an Asian American trying to make it as a therapist, her fiancé Brian (R. Michael Clinkscales), a wannabe comedian, love interest Kate Monster (Marett Hanes), a Kindergarten teaching assistant, Nicky (Eric Meo) and Rod (Matthew Charles Burnett), the Bert and Ernie equivalent of the block, and Trekkie Monster (Eric Meo), whose one and only hobby is...well...porn. Together, they learn that life can suck sometimes; everyone's a little bit racist; and sometimes you just wish you could go back to college. Think of it as a raunchier, adult version of Sesame Street.
The challenge of performing Avenue Q is no easy feat. Despite the show's intricate use of puppets, correct timing and delivery of humor, relatability of the characters needed to make the show a success, it's a show that, surprisingly, is being more and more frequently performed. Austin Theatre Project has quickly jumped on that bandwagon; having originally performed the show back in 2013 to rave reviews and local Austin theatre awards. Reassembling the majority of the cast, adding a few new faces, and changing venues, the company remounted their award-winning production for a second run.
Despite ATP's daunting, somewhat intimidating performance space (a theater nestled inside a legitimate warehouse off of Airport Blvd. and Springdale Road- allow time to get there, you'll get lost), the production is an impressive one. With hardly a weak link in the company, the story is just as memorable, funny, and relatable as the version I saw on the Broadway stage. Specifically, Hanes' Kate Monster shines. She plays the lovable, yet soft-spoken monster with the perfect amount of self-doubt, strength, and kindness- making her an audience favorite. Burnett's Rod also stands out as the unintentionally hilarious, stuck-in-the-closet, uptight roommate Rod. Julian, while funny and memorable in her role, is clearly more of an opera singer, and the more casual, showtune style of the musical's repertoire wasn't a perfect fit her voice. Burnett and Laura Galt's Bad Idea Bears, however, make the show. Their hilarity, chemistry with the other characters and with each other, in addition to their impeccable timing and- for lack of a better word- adorableness, really steal the spotlight.
The set, while a bit simple and somewhat lacking, gets the job done. The live orchestra (though unseen) did a phenomenal job, and the technical aspect (specifically, a television that sporadically played cartoon clips a la Sesame Street to teach lessons and add to the plot) went off without a (noticeable) hitch). The choreography, as well, added to the production and was very well thought out and executed- especially when considering the puppetry involved.
For any fan of Avenue Q, Broadway musicals, or just comedy in general, Austin Theatre Project's production does not disappoint. ATP pulls of yet again a successful mounting of the Broadway favorite, with brilliant direction, a talented and energetic cast, a live orchestra, and an obvious love of theatre throughout clearly being the reason why. The term don't judge a book by its cover comes to mind, because inside the somewhat dark, cold, and hard-to-locate warehouse off Airport Blvd. is a little gem of Broadway magic. The house music (composed of School House Rock, Sesame Street, and more) may drive you a bit insane, though.
Avenue Q plays at the Ground Floor Theater, 979 Springdale Road, Austin, TX 78702, and runs through March 1st. For tickets, visit austintheatreproject.org.
Photo Credit: Doc List Photography