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Avenue Q

a Musical
CATEGORY :
by Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez, and Jeff Marx

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 4044

SHOWING : May 20, 2011 - July 03, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Smart, hilarious, risqué and full of heart, Avenue Q is Broadway’s smash-hit.

The neighbors are nice on Avenue Q, the only address you can afford when you’re fresh out of college, out of a job, or just trying to find your way in life. An upbeat musical for grown-ups. *Contains mature language and situations; not intended for children.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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A Is for Avenue
by playgoer
Sunday, July 3, 2011
5.0
Horizon Theatre's "Avenue Q" is deservedly a hit. It has brought together a number of Atlanta's most talented individuals into a sparkling, energetic, thoroughly entertaining production.

The set by the Curley-Clays (Moriah & Isabel) appears at first to be a solid set of brickfront tenements, complete with stoop and graffiti. Portions move and flip, though, to reveal interior spaces, and other set pieces roll on and off to suggest particular settings. It's a lot less massive than the Broadway touring production that rolled through the Fox a few years back, but it's totally effective. The talking box scene starts with just a couple of cardboard boxes here, as opposed to the mounds onstage at the Fox, but the smaller scale turns to delight as the cast members each come on with a box to add to the scene.

The one element I thought was lacking here was the video design by Bradley Bergeron. The videos have a fairly amateur look, and the projection on a small screen isn't very impressive. Other lighting, designed by Mary Parker, is fine. The small scale and somewhat slapped-together feel of the production make the video segments feel right at home, though. This is a show that makes no attempt at slickness, so director Heidi Cline McKerley may have specifically requested slightly cheesy videos.

The puppeteers' human costumes by Anna Jenny don't hold a candle to the puppets designed by Russ Walko (which are similar to the Broadway designs, but not slavish copies). Ms. Jenny's costumes for the human characters, particularly for Christmas Eve, add to the visual delights of the production.

The real fun, of course, is provided by the performers. Those handling puppets do so ably, and it's a hard decision whether to watch the puppetry or the facial expressions of the puppeteers. These people, particularly Mary Nye Bennett as Kate Monster, are truly acting the roles. The authenticity of the acting and the artificality of the puppets gives a nice texture to the piece.

It helps that the cast is filled with Atlanta favorites. The talent onstage is awesome, but everyone seems to be working together as a true ensemble. The teamwork of Jeff McKerley's left hand and Jill Hames' right hand as Nicky is a delight to watch. No choreographer is given credit, but a lot of the movement is synchronized beautifully, albeit simply in terms of footwork. The show is just plain fun to watch.

Nick Arapoglou has tremendous appeal in the lead role of Princeton. His quirky sincerity and sly humor reminded me a lot of his performance as Snoopy in Button Theatre's "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" several years back. He charms effortlessly, just by being so darn good at what he does. Mary Nye Bennett plays off him beautifully, so the audience is rooting for the couple from the start.

Spencer J. Stephens (Gary Coleman) and J.C. Long (Rod) both double as musicians, and they do as fine work here as they've done elsewhere. Their voices sometimes have less volume than their backup singers, but that's only for moments of the show. There is such a wonderful collection of voices here that the massed effect is wondrous. Vocal director S. Renee Clark has done her usual professional job.

A lot of the humor in the show comes from the relationship between somewhat schlubbish Brian, played by Matt Nitchie, and overbearing Christmas Eve, played by Leslie Bellair. They work together delightfully, and also do wonderful work in their separate bits. My standout favorite of the musical numbers was "The More You Ruv Someone," particularly Leslie Bellair's brilliant emotional changes. Her voice and Mary Nye Bennett's also blended beautifully.

The only downside of "Avenue Q" is being squeezed into a packed house. The seating at Horizon Theatre hasn't kept up with the super-sizing of Americans, so it can be tight. But when you're laughing and applauding as much as the audiences are at "Avenue Q," a little physical discomfort is hardly a distraction. This is one fun show! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
First Impressions
by Dedalus
Friday, June 24, 2011
4.0
“Avenue Q” is one of those shows that, upon first impression, should be dismissed as a cynical one-joke exercise in snarkiness. Supposedly an “adult” parody of “Sesame Street,” it has little to offer beyond its shocking content (Cursing! Drugs! Sex!) and its strict allusion to “Sesame Street” (Rod & Nicky = Bert and Ernie, Trekkie Monster = Cookie Monster, etc).

I mean let’s look it with an honest eye. “What do you do With a BA in English?(**)” appeals to the anti-intellectualism running amok these days, and was apparently written by someone who never went to college. “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” is a cynical wallow in self-justification. “The Internet is for Porn” is … okay I’ll buy that one. The puppets are paper-thin characters who survive on stereotypes. And does (the late) Gary Coleman really need this much abuse?

And yet … And yet … And yet …

And yet, when I first heard the CD, I couldn’t stop laughing. And now that I’ve (finally) seen it on stage (I somehow missed the two tours that breezed through town), I still can’t stop laughing. Maybe because I pre-date the “Sesame Street” generation (though I confess to getting through college with Grover and company), maybe because I have a healthy streak of snark myself, I respond well to the cynicism on view, and respond more to the healthy streak of heart that underscores the entire show.

To recap, Princeton is a recent college graduate moving to Avenue Q (because it’s all he can afford). There he meets all the residents who will be his friends – Gary Coleman, the building super (yes, THAT Gary Coleman), Rod and Nicky (two friends who share an apartment), Brian and Christmas Eve (two non-puppet characters – who says there’s no diversity here!), the winsome and lovely Kate Monster, and the reclusive (and single-minded) Trekkie Monster. Into Princeton’s world comes the “Bad Idea Bears” (a brilliantly mean conception), not to mention the what-you-see is what-you-get Lucy the Slut. Throughout the course of the play, Princeton is trying to find some purpose, and, well, each scene can be read as a little “lesson” in living on the grittier side of the tracks.

It doesn’t hurt that the Horizon has put together a cast of local favorites and put them through their puppetry paces to sell the show. Nick Arapoglou brings to Princeton a wide-eyed innocence that carries through his second act “bottoming out.” J.C. Long and Jeff McKerley bring to Rod and Nicky an originality that transcends the “Bert and Ernie” impersonations that too often saddle the actors who play the roles. Mary Nye Bennett is a sassy and strong Kate Monster, and her singing (especially in “There’s a Fine, Fine Line”) is one of the highlights of the show. I also liked the non-puppet characters played by Spencer Stephens, Leslie Bellair, And Matt Nitchie, and Jill Hames gives the Lucy the Slut puppet a “Special” life force that is funny and memorable.

Moriah & Isabel Curley-Clay have put them all in a seedy (if sometimes flimsy) back-street set that flows from scene to scene with little delay, and Heidi Cline McKerley directs it all with a pace and energy that creates a non-stop romp into the “dark side” of being a grown-up. I liked every minute of this show.

Now I can’t leave this review without commenting on some remarks I heard from some friends who were less-than-impressed with the performances. These were folks who did see the touring companies, and didn’t like the changes made to the show, particularly the lack of “Bert and Ernie” impersonations on the part of Mr. Long and Mr. McKerley. Admittedly, I’ve been known to unfavorably compare one production of a particular show with another version seen previously. In this case though, they seem to focus on something I DIDN’T like about the CD (and apparently the tours). We “get” that Rod and Nicky are supposed to be like Bert and Ernie – slavishly imitating those familiar voices is, to my ears, a distraction from the unique qualities brought to this show by these characters (for the record, Rod is firmly “in the closet” gay, and Nicky is not – his song “If You Were Gay” is one of the nicest, non-cynical and non-judgmental songs in the show). So, my response to such criticism is simply this – I liked the show, you didn’t! Neener Neener Neener! Since this is my first impression of the show (for now), my only excuse is that I am unaffected by prior productions.

So, I invite you all to take a trip the “Avenue Q,” where you will see the most interesting puppets doing the most interesting things to each other, and singing the most interesting songs with an energy that is contagious and infectious.

I can tell you how to get there!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

** So, just what DO you do with a BA in English? Call me! I have one. And what I had to do to get it is one of the main reasons this song should rub me the wrong way. Why it doesn’t is just an interesting psychological phenomenon that has absolutely nothing to do with Denial. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!



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