Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Midland's "Avenue Q" delivers abundant laughs with irreverent puppets

review by janet i. martineau

“Avenue Q.”


Not sure what is the most delightful about this Midland Center for the Arts production -- watching the superb work of its ensemble cast or listening to the deep, deep laughs of the audience enjoying the musical’s irreverent lines and songs.
Whatever the case, this show is a must see if you can adjust to the idea that nothing is sacred and that puppets can enjoy enthusiastic sex. That the song titles include “It Sucks To Be Me,” “The Internet Is for Porn” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” That you can adjust to the fact this is a puppet show for adults.

Besides, beneath all those dirty laughs is a musical soooo full of heart and insight into the human pathos; a musical that sends you out the door feeling a little bit better about life and its fine, fine lines.

What is remarkable too is how director Bill Anderson Jr. leads his cast of 12 not only into a strong (and diction perfect) delivery of lines and songs but also into being attached (9 of them) to and manipulating hand puppets who are supposedly saying the lines and singing the songs. The audience can plainly see both the faces of the actors and the faces of the puppets...which will they, should they be drawn to?

And then, just to further complicate things, a couple of the puppets need a second handler -- one who says nothing but moves in sync with the speaking actor, so close together there is no room between them. What must that feel like as an actor?

Adam Gardener as Rod, a character with identity issues, is the most accomplished of the puppet people. He and his puppet are, from get go, one and the same. He also manages to just slightly hide himself behind his puppet so it becomes the most real.

But then there are Kyle Bagnall as Nicky, Rod’s roommate, and Stephen Fort as Trekkie Monster, who create voices that are unreal and thus add another element. There is Marci Rogers as Lucy the Slut, whose pole dance body language matches that of her puppet’s. Kate Fort and Katie Hicks as the two tiny Bad Idea Bears who hover like spaceships and act as one.

Cara Baker has one of the non-puppet roles -- a Caucasian actress cast as an Asian woman named Christmas Eve, with Asian accent and body movements right on. And Stephanie Mattos cast as (yes) Gary Coleman, convincingly playing a male and with some of the best lines which she delivers with a perfect touch.

Heidi Bethune is a heart-breaker as Kate Monster, seeking love in her life and hoping to set up a private school for monsters. And Andew Southwell is the perfect sadsack as Princeton, a recent college grad with no job and no purpose in life.

The answer is, as least for this person, we watch both the puppets and their human actors...taking both in some of the time, somehow, and at other times focusing on just the puppet or just the human. What fun.

Matching Anderson’s excellent direction is Kelli Jolly’s choreography that has this cast gliding across the floor like robo devices, always in motion but smoothly and naturally.

The set is a two-sided Avenue Q series of apartments, some of them reversable to show interiors. Bravo to Anderson who directs them to move QUICKLY (mostly by the cast members) and without a stop in the action (unlike a recent show in Midland in which the set changes labored).

The action also includes video footage that is great fun...and at one point three cardboard boxes sing as humans manipulate them.

FYI to those who attend shows running the next two weekends -- when the cast comes into the audience and hats are passed during “The Money Song,” they are taking up a real collection of money to donate to the producers of “Sesame Street.” So get your money out because, as the musical states, it feels good to give.


  1. As Janet mentions, Avenue Q at MCFTA is a strong ensemble show. As with any show, there are characters that resonate and make an impact. However, it can be argued that Christmas Eve wouldn't be nearly as quirky without her contrasting, laid back counterpart, husband Brian (played pitch perfectly by Robert Sandoval), and you don't appreciate the overall whimsy without a reminder that "crabby old bitches are the bedrock of society." Even with her twitching, Megan Ellis's Mrs. Thistletwat makes you remember that power isn't always equally distributed or rightfully obtained.

    1. Forgot to mention...I saw the show on Saturday, and I'm contemplating seeing it again...really, a worthwhile production!

  2. Dear anon.......surely you realize a review cannot mention every cast member...nor is it required to do so. Check that out as you attend shows and read reviews. Besides, the very first graph credits everyone as does a later graph. Janet