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Saturday, 21 January 2012 00:59

They're Not Your Father's Puppets Anymore!

Written by Laura Kyro
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I’ve never seen the musical Avenue Q before, nor read a review. Having seen it now, however, as performed by the [Insert Name Here] theatre company, I can just imagine some of the witty phrases that might, in the past, have been used in reviews, based on its life-size puppets and obvious ties to Sesame Street and Jim Henson’s Muppets. I would guess its themes of racism (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), sexual preference (“If You Were Gay”), on-stage puppet, um, physical encounters (“You Can be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)”), online porn (“The Internet is for Porn”), and females of questionable morals, among others, would no doubt have engendered a load of double-entendres and naughty plays on words. My timid contribution is the title of this review.

Avenue Q, the winner of three TONY awards in 2004—including Best Musical—is not a puppet production in which the human performers hide behind the scenes, with only their felt, fabric, and fur personas being visible. Here the puppet performers are in full view, adding three-dimensionality to their roles. Alone with their puppet, or combined in scenes with human performers without puppets, it was an effective technique.

Indeed, I found [Insert Name Here] theatre company’s production of Avenue Q to be very enjoyable. The seven-member cast (Nki Calloway, Paul Cereghino, Troyer Coultas, Wes Jenkins, Connie Reinhardt, Nicole Robbins, Troy Turnipseed), as directed by Chris Owens, had strong acting skills, and energy and enthusiasm in their roles coming out of their pores. Considering that the ‘stage’ was the front of a long and narrow storefront (the LGBT Center of St. Louis, 4337 Manchester), with the performers mere inches from the front row of audience chairs, and running the aisle from the back of the house, you couldn’t help but get caught up in the energy.

A musical with a very simple plot (life sucks in a soulless urban metropolis, but friends make it all better) (book by Jeff Whitty) with a LOT of songs to fill it out (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx), everyone in the cast sang very well (vocal direction by Lea Eilers) as their puppet and human roles, most taking multiple puppet characters. It was also very obvious that a lot of work had gone into rehearsing manipulation of each of the puppet elements (heads, mouths, limbs on controlling rods, limbs controlled by live human hands) to make them appear as complete characters (choreography by Kelly Stevens). That work paid off nicely.

Technically, the set won’t be winning any awards at the next Kline’s, but its simplicity was appropriate for this production. A small monitor above the set ran pre-produced cartoon videos that were employed several times as scene filler. Lighting was a little uneven with cues (perhaps due to it being opening night) and the fact that the lights needed a few seconds to come up to full brightness after activation.

The only major niggle I had with the production was the ear-ringing sound level at times when the entire cast (all with personal microphones) was singing full-out with the five-member band (led by Joseph Eckelkamp) in the fairly intimate venue. Whew!

That said, it was still a very enjoyable production.

Avenue Q by [Insert Name Here] theatre company runs about 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission. It continues in The LGBT Center of St. Louis through Saturday, January 28, 2012. See for more information.

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