BWW Review: AVENUE Q at 710 Main Theatre
MULTI-TALENTED CAST SHINES IN AVENUE Q
A joyous thing is happening at 710 Main Theatre. A group of irreverant puppets and some caricature humans have moved in on a street where you say what you mean and you mean what you say. This hilarious production of AVENUE Q presented MusicalFare had the attentive audience laughing at things they know they shouldn't, but it was just too funny not to.
With music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, this fast paced evening provides a social commentary that would be too hard to pull off if it didn't include puppets to help it along. Four of the seven cast members have puppets on their arms at all times, as pseudo ventriloquists. There is no attempt for the actors to not move their lips, but rather the actors mirror the actions of the puppets, giving a double whammy to the humor. Oh yeah, and some of the puppets are "monster puppets" and some are "human puppets," who all co-habitate with real humans on the fictitious Avenue Q-- probably miles away from that other famous place, Sesame Street. The book by Jeff Whitty is often bawdy in the style of SOUTH PARK, but no one truly is injured in his tongue and cheek take on everyday life. Blatant honesty hits you over the head when the cast sings "The Internet is For Porn" and no one seems to denies that truth!
Director and Choreographer Doug Weyand has re-assembled a near perfect cast from this production's previous outing in 2012. His direction melds well with his swirling choreography that has the cast dancing with tongue in cheek humor. Marc Sacco deftly takes on the dual roles of Princeton and Rod. Sacco's singing is spot on and sounds like you would imagine a puppet to sing. Both of his human puppets are struggling with their sexuality, and the neighbors sing a riotous "If You Were Gay" to help ease his burden. Amy Jakiel shines as the pretty Kate Monster, with her own facial expressions somehow also perfectly conveyed to her puppet- no easy feat. She doubles as the sex pot Lucy, and shows her versatility with her powerhouse singing.
The humans of the street include Dominique Kempf as the landlord of the street, Gary Coleman-- yes, Gary Coleman of "Different Strokes" fame. You see, all the inhabitants of Avenue Q seem to be displaced or searching for their higher purpose. Jeffrey Coyle as Brian, the out of work comic, is engaged to an Asian woman named Christmas Eve (Charmagne Chi.) Ms. Chi hits all the right comedic notes as the struggling psychologist who speaks with a broken English accent, and rules the roost in her apartment. The group number "Everyone's A little Bit Racist" makes sure that all ethnic and racial groups are included in the racism that everyone knows exists, but rarely speaks of. Therein lies the beauty of the musical, where placing a puppet on one's arm and being a self proclaimed monster allows you to say something you wouldn't otherwise be able to utter.
The cast is rounded out by the talented Jacob Albarella and Maria Droz, who play multiple puppet parts, including the hilarious duo of the Bad Idea Bears. They are the evil Devils that sit on your shoulder and comically prod you along to to do the wrong things. Mr. Albarella's multiple voices from grumbles to high pitches were all gems, and he would shine with any animator or Muppets troupe.
Sets by Chris Schenk and animation by Robert Lopez are reminiscent of the brownstones of New York, while lighting by Chris Cavanagh made effective use of closing in much of the large playing area to focus the audience's attention. The four piece combo, led by Griffin Kramer, was placed behind the scenes and was very well rehearsed. The amazing puppets were designed by Adam Kreutinger and truly became their own characters.
This type of production is perfectly suited to the 710 Main Theatre and shows how an established Regional company like MusicalFare can thrive when the Buffalo theatre community shares resources. The high quality production values and multi-talented cast of AVENUE Q make this a must see of the season, and hopefully will build momentum for the comeback of the former Studio Arena stage in downtown Buffalo.
AVENUE Q plays 710 Main Theatre from April 7- 24, 2016.
For tickets call 1-800-745-3000, go to ticketmaster.com or visit Shea's Box Office , 650 Main St, Buffalo.