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BWW Reviews: HSPVA's AVENUE Q (SCHOOL EDITION) Showcases Promising Young Talent

BWW Reviews: HSPVA's AVENUE Q (SCHOOL EDITION) Showcases Promising Young TalentIt's incredibly rare when I venture out to see a high school production, but Houston ISD's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) definitely piqued my interest when I saw they were producing Avenue Q. First and foremost, I wanted to see how Jeff Whitty, Jeff Marx, and Robert Lopez's irreverent and controversial musical was adjusted for high school performers. Secondly, the kids at HSPVA are being trained to be professional theater's next generation of quality talent, so having the opportunity to see incredible kids perform is always intriguing as well. Needless to say, HSPVA's production of Avenue Q is performed well, hysterical, and only mildly toned down from the original.

Direction by Stephanie Wittels, with student assitance from Emma Dorfman, embraces the whimsy of the show. Their cast is highly energetic and delivers performances reminiscent of the great children's shows of the 80s, namely Sesame Street and The Electric Company. I applaud their choice to rid the show of its cast doubling and video montages, giving more of the HSPVA students opportunities to be on stage. Therr cast easily is twice the size of a standard production of Avenue Q, and they abundantly utilizes every student on stage by having them come out in character for scene changes and to just fill in gaps throughout the show to make interesting stage pictures.

The strongest performance of the evening was Viviel Bohler's charismatic and sweet Kate Monster. With a bubbly zeal and a heart of gold, she delivered a character that cuddled gently against our heartstrings. Her Act I finale, "There's a Fine, Fine Line" was beautifully sung and affecting, as were her parts during "My Social Life in On-Line," "A Mix Tape," "Fantasies Come True," and "I Wish I Could Go Back to College."

My second favorite performance was Chandler Dean's plucky Nicky. Utilizing a character voice that Frank Oz would approve of, he charms the audience with his kind and accepting heart. His performances on both "If You Were Gay" and "The Money Song" were true highlights of the production.

Dillon Glass' Princeton, Christian Cortes' work as Nicky's Right Arm and Newcomer, Fernando Grimaldo's Rod, Hunter McEachern's Brian, Angela Montante's Christmas Eve, Fernell Hogan's Gary Coleman, Sarah Portugal's Lucy, Dante Rossi's Trekkie, Jacob Allen's work as Trekkie's Left Arm and Ensemble, Kyle Legacion and Emily Scott as the Bad Idea Bears and Ensemble, Elizabeth Robinson as Mrs. Butz and Ensemble, Emily Sherman's work as Mrs. Butz's Right Arm and Ensemble, Jeremiah Pratt as Ricky and Ensemble, and Ensemble members Libby Jasper, Ellie Sondock, Julia MacDonald, Andie Popova, and Marilyn Arnold all played their roles with beguiling liveliness and spunk. Like true professionals, they commit to their designated roles to ensure that they entertain the audience with their witty and spritely characters.

The production value for shows at HSPVA is particularly incredible as well, especially where the set is concerned. Paul Davis' multistoried and multifaceted set for Avenue Q is strikingly reminiscent of the set used in New York City and is extremely detailed. It is a gorgeous recreation of a New York City street, providing a wonderful backdrop for the performers.

Ethan Cantu's costume design pays the proper amount of homage to the original costume design; however, he makes a unique adjustment as well. He dresses his puppeteers in grey and black outfits that fit the personalities of the fuzzy characters they manipulate. This is different from the typical black shirt, black pants, and black shoes approach usually used. This subtle shift is a nice addition to this production.

Taking a trip to HSPVA to see Avenue Q (SCHOOL EDITION) is well worth it. Even toned down, the show still leaves audiences rolling with laughter. Likewise, getting a preview of the skilled up-and-coming talents being produced in our own backyards is a lot of fun.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

AVENUE Q (SCHOOL EDITION), produced by Houston ISD's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, plays HSPVA's Black Box, 4001 Stafford Street, Houston 77006, now though November 23, 2013. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 6:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Due to language and content, the show is recommended for mature audiences only. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.hspvatheatreguild.org.

Photos courtesy of HSPVA.

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The Cast of HSPVA's Avenue Q (SCHOOL EDITION).

Fernando Grimaldo as Rod, Christian Cortes Nicky's Right Arm, and Chandler Dean as Nicky.

Dillon Glass as Princeton with the Ensemble of HSPVA's Avenue Q (SCHOOL EDITION).

Emily Sherman as Mrs. Butz's Right Arm and Elizabeth Robinson as Mrs. Butz.

Emily Scott as Girl Bad Idea Bear, Dillon Glass as Princeton, and Kyle Legacion as Boy Bad Idea Bear.

Viviel Bohler as Kate Monster.

Christian Cortes Nicky's Right Arm, Chandler Dean as Nicky, and Fernell Hogan as Gary Coleman.

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