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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
Theater: Avenue Q 
27th-Jan-2013 11:10 am
We saw Avenue Q at Dominion Stage in Arlington last night. In general, I enjoyed it. Last night's performance was closing night for a two-week run at a community theater, so my expectations were not very high regarding general glitter and glam quality. The set was well done, with a simple backdrop of three apartment facades and rolling internal panels that emphasized specific apartments for different scenes.

The singing quality was very mixed, with the male lead (Devon Ross) suffering from "nice" and "bland" in the same way that Tony did in West Side Story. And like that Tony, this Princeton's voice blended nearly perfectly with every other voice that hit his during the duets and ensemble numbers. Heather Friedman played Kate Monster with a strongly nuanced and excellently timed vocal repertoire but was not as strong on the puppeteering as I might have liked.

The music was live, with a six-piece ensemble, which led to a couple of bobbles, but nothing serious. And while the music was good, it was... unmemorable. The song that I can hear in my head today is "Fine, Fine Line," which, while lovely, is probably not one of the songs that I'm supposed to take away and sing in the shower. It's one of the few honestly serious songs in the whole show, and could be considered the equivalent of "Happy/Sad" from Addams Family Musical for important emotional statements, but not takeaway songs.

There was a lot of music, and the show moved very quickly. Unfortunately, some of the humor was lost in too much going on too fast or buried under the heavy fake Japanese accent affected by one of the characters. The scene "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" would have been a lot funnier if it had been a hair slower, better articulated, and they had paused for one or two of the punchlines. For example, during the whole commentary about getting a taxi, a lot of people missed Coleman (Jonathan Faircloth) saying that he couldn't even get a taxi to stop for him.

My favorite characters inside of the show didn't start out that way. I was originally drawn to Faircloth for his very Sesame Street physicality and up-front performance, while the other characters were just there. Once I started getting into the story for its own sake, the characters separated from the ideal for me. The Bad Idea Bears initially made me cringe from reflected idiocy and shame. Then I realized that they were an out-loud plot device for internal thought process and decision making by the characters involved that would otherwise not be obvious to all audience members. Their participation in group scenes in the second act put a stupidity stamp on some things that otherwise would have just been ... odd... and their Care Bear enthusiasm made me want to laugh with evil glee.

My favorite puppeteers were Amy Baska, playing Lucy the Slut, and Patrick Graham as Rod. Baska indulged in an over-the-top performance of a flouncy blonde who was so far past innuendo that she was in danger of falling out the other side. And even while doing her puppetry, Baska's own physical movements perfectly mirrored the puppet's attitude. Graham had a dual challenge of playing a unique character with his own backstory while always trying to evoke Bert from Sesame Street. Like Baska, Graham had his whole body thrown into the puppetry so that they were almost mimics of each other during important scenes, especially the last reveal.

In summary, this was a fun little show. I'm not sure that Broadway quality would have increased my enjoyment enough to justify Broadway prices, so I'll stand with what I've already bet. I'm pleased with what I spent and what I got out of the evening.
27th-Jan-2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
I LOVED Avenue Q. I saw it at a Vermont theater for my birthday a few years ago. I agree "Fine, Fine Line" was a very strong song that has stayed with me. But I loved the Bad Idea Bears. Man, they're perfect. "A sixpack of beer? You're on a budget! You should buy a whole case!"
28th-Jan-2013 04:45 pm (UTC)
Interesting that they chose to split up Lucy and Kate - when I saw it with the mostly original cast, they had the same person playing both, and just had one of the "chorus" puppeteers in for Lucy when they were both in the same scene (which iirc only happens once.) It sounds like their Kate might not have been up to that, though.

And yeah, once you realize that the Bears are the Greek chorus all becomes clear. :)
28th-Jan-2013 06:42 pm (UTC)
IIRC, Lucy and Kate talk with each other when Kate leaves the note for Princeton to meet her on the top of the Empire State Building. And Lucy is performing when Kate and Princeton are at the bar getting plastered. But yeah, the two puppeteers were very different, and I think the performance was stronger for it.
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1st-Feb-2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. If the chorus is so weak, then maybe it's time to re-evaluate how it was cast/built...

Thanks for the recommendation.
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