Thursday, July 5, 2012
Theater review: Avenue Q at Theatre Three in Dallas
The laughs begin before the show starts.
Non-stop laughter is what you will hear coming from Theatre Too at Theatre Three. Puppets have taken over and are running amok, making adults as giddy as children reliving their days watching Sesame Street. Avenue Q (playing through September 16) is brilliantly directed, wonderfully performed, and amazingly designed.
Walking into Theatre Too it is amazing to see the tiny space effectively transform into a dirty but quaint New York City Street with multiple brownstone home fronts. The brick facades and window panes are painted in immaculate detail. Every brick looks as though it were placed there by a master mason. There are five entrance points for the actors to utilize, not including several windows which are also used as portals for action. No easy feat, considering the aforementioned size of the space. This eases the flow of stage traffic in unbelievable ways.
The puppets in Theatre Too's production of Avenue Q are masterfully crafted. No seams are apparent from the audience. They come to life with exuberant energy. It's easy to get lost in the show and watch the puppets' movements, ignoring the puppeteers attached to them. My personal favorite puppets are Nicky and Trekkie Monster. Both are two-handed puppets, meaning they have two gloves for hands instead of hands attached to sticks like other puppets, but that is not the reason for my adoration. The construction of these two puppets is exceptional. Nicky's wild blue hair, gentle eyes, and casual dress can draw a person in and accept him as a character as opposed to a mere puppet. Trekkie Monster, with his long fur and horns, certainly lives up to his name. The fur grants a few more liberties to the stitching, making it easier to hide. Also, Trekkie's body is blanket-like. This makes Trekkie very flexible in his movements and gives the puppeteers more freedom.
All of the puppeteers do an excellent job. James Chandler as Nicky certainly has the standout performance. This being one of his first forays into puppetry makes his act even more impressive. With Michael Robinson at his side, operating Nicky's right hand, Chandler makes Nicky an exuberant character the audience can't help but love. Chandler's performance of "If You Were Gay," with the support of Matt Purvis as Rod, brings down the house. He's the perfect lovable but annoying roommate character everybody wants to take home.
Most puppeteers pull double duty and Matt Purvis as Princeton and Rod pulls off the feat wonderfully. Purvis, an accomplished nationally recognized actor, makes his Theatre Three debut reprising his role as Princeton in Avenue Q. As Princeton, the wide-eyed, new kid on the block starting his life and searching for his purpose, Purvis turns in an adorable performance that draws the audience in. As Rod, an uptight investment banker in denial of his own sexuality, Purvis is hilarious conveying his annoyance at his roommate Nicky and repressing his sexual desires. "My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada", where Rod tries to convince everybody of his heterosexuality, is one of the most hilariously performed songs in the entire show.
Megan Kelly Bates has the widest swing in characters, playing the sweet Kate Monster and an appropriately named puppet, Lucy the Slut. Bates' characters share stage time more than the other puppeteers, adding difficulty to her roles. With the support of her fellow puppeteers, Bates is able to provide the voices for each character, even having them bicker back and forth. Bates is incredible in these dual roles.
Michael Robinson, the Artistic Director of Dallas Puppet Theater, designed and built the puppets for Avenue Q at Theatre Too along with Pix Smith. He also plays Trekkie Monster and works several of the other puppets throughout the show. His expertise and ability to train others is an obvious asset to the production. There is not a weak puppet performance anywhere in the show. Most memorable of his puppetry in Avenue Q is when he works with the Lucy the Slut puppet, integrating his whole body into the performance.
Following the success of last year's Next to Normal and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the other Michael, Serrecchia, once again directs a stellar musical. Avenue Q is a practically perfect show. I'm happy to be able to say I was unable to find any faults in the show. Serrecchia keeps the action on the stage flowing smoothly and naturally. Also, with his guidance, the cast, even though most are composed of fleece and felt, conveys a wonderful, emotional, personal journey of life and love.
There are three actors who play human characters. As Christmas Eve, Olivia de Guzman Emile, almost steals any scene she is in. From the wild, perfectly designed costumes, including a wedding dress that literally lights up like a Christmas tree, to the over-the-top accent and overbearing nature, Emile personifies the character beautifully.
Second is Chester Maple as Brian, an unemployed wannabe comedian engaged to Christmas Eve. From "It Sucks to Be Me" to "There is Life Outside Your Apartment," Brian is a goofy, lovable loser just trying to have a good time and keep his fiancé happy. The dance he does to "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today" is hilarious. And the physical humor of "You can be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)" is absurdly funny.
Finally, M. Denise Lee plays Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman). She tackles the role and makes it her own. It doesn't matter that Gary Coleman was a real person. Lee's portrayal of the role is unique, entertaining, and great. Even the male-oriented jokes, like those in "The Internet is for Porn," don't seem off with Lee's performance.
Avenue Q is an incredible show that should NOT be missed. The laughs begin before the show starts. How many shows have you seen in which the curtain speech leaves the audience in stitches and receives uproarious applause? Although it is a puppet show in the style of Sesame Street and co-opting elements from The Electric Company, it is NOT appropriate for children. However, if you wish to have cherished parts of your childhood bastardized in the most hysterical way possible, get your tickets now.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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