Community Theatre Review: Avenue Q at Footlighters Theatre

A Side-splitting Good Time!

What happens when the you twist the concept of Sesame Street, add a ton of comedy and the in-your-face realness of adulting?  You get Avenue Q, the hit musical comedy by Robert Lopez and Jeff MarxAvenue Q was a Tony-award winning smash on Broadway around the world and recently closed an off-Broadway production in NYC.  Incorporating Jim Henson look-a-like puppets handled by on-stage real-life actors, the story of Avenue Q follows the hilarious, irreverent and sometimes thought-provoking journey of the residents of the apartment building on the make-believe street.

Presenting Avenue Q at a community theatre level is no easy feat.  The cost of the puppet construction (in this case, rental) alone can be very pricey but if you don’t have the “stars” of your show, you really can’t do it.  Kudos to Footlighters Theatre in Berwyn, PA for working hard to raise the funds to get the actual Broadway-built characters for this production.  It was such a nice touch.  But let’s be real here.  The puppets would be nothing without people behind them!  Director Danielle Latchall has assembled a top-notch cast.  Every actor in this cast (whether puppeted or not) needs to be a triple threat (able to sing, dance and act) and all of them are way above par in this respect.  In addition, they need to provide a character voice which has to be retained in the entire duration of the show both in dialogue and song while not pulling attention from their foam friend attached to their hand.  The actors in this musical definitely proved that they were up for that challenge. 

The show centers around Princeton, a recent college graduate looking for his first apartment and purpose in life.   Princeton is brought to life by Matthew Moorhead.  Moorhead’s innocent yet sometimes sarcastic take on Princeton complimented by his strong vocals were very welcoming as he drove the story forward.  Princeton’s love interest, Kate Monster, was sweetly played by Laura Mancano whose tender vocal stylings soared especially during “There’s a Fine, Fine Line”.   Their post-date “nightcap” scene is especially unexpectedly hilarious for those who are new to the script.

Joining these two on the Avenue, is an exuberant cast of neighbors all with their own unique personalities.   Roommates Nicky and Rod, are hilariously played by Trevor Sheehan and Patrick Sutton.  Their timing and banter back and forth compliment the hilarious story perfectly.  Sutton’s “Girlfriend who Lives in Canada” was one of my favorite moments in this production. 

For those of you familiar with the script, I think you will agree that the irreverence of the story is definitely emphasized with the appearance of the perverted, porn-addicted Trekkie Monster and aptly-named Lucy the Slut.  The fine talents of Mark Urmson and Melissa Lesperance gave life to these over the top characters and made each of them memorable.

Magically appearing throughout the comedy are the two Bad Idea Bears (aka Princeton’s inner conscience), played by Jennifer Nendza and Paula Urmson.  These two actors brought so much outrageous but subtle humor to characters who have in the past have been lost in the mix for this reviewer.  Actor Kimmie Fetters perfectly played Mrs. Thistletwat, the crotchety old Kindergarten teacher.  Peter Zukowski, rounds out the puppeted crew by pulling double duty as puppet assistant for various characters and Newcomer at the end of the show.  Zukowski had a difficult task of learning a slew of characters and his facial expressions and movement skills are to be commended.

But Avenue Q is not only about puppets.  There are real-life residents as well and these three stood out!   Managing the building as ex-child star, Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) is Meredith Bell.  Bell’s infectious smile, exceptional vocals and spirited acting skills shined onstage!  Wannabe stand-up comic Brian, is played enthusiastically by John Pisula.  While he provided much of the laughter, it was his under his breath, unscripted comments that added to the hilarity of the scenes.  His Asian-American wife, Christmas Eve portrayed by Doreen Nguyen, was everything I wanted her to be!!!  She was funny with a capital F and displayed excellent vocals especially during “The More You Ruv Someone” along with Kate Monster.

The work behind the scenes is just as important to the success of a production and it is obvious that a lot of hard work went into this one.  The delightful knock-off Sesame Street multi-level set is fully functional and adds its own character to the production. The addition of built-in video clips add to the fun and are very reminiscent of childhood PBS memories but with a very adult feel. The band led by Wesley T. Stohler, did a fine job with the adorable score and blended nicely with the actors onstage.  Choreographer, Katrina Brown, captured the playfulness of the characters while providing the edgy feel needed.

While I have been to many productions at Footlighters before, I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with this one.  Strong talent, nice direction, and just plain irreverent fun!  Get yourself to Berwyn!  This is one not to be missed.  BUT leave the kids AT HOME!!!   Definitely rated R!   

Avenue Q runs through November 2nd at the Footlighters Theatre in Berwyn, PA.  For ticket information, please visit www.footlighterstheater.com.

 

Photo from Footlighters Theatre Facebook page.

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