“Avenue Q” Wows
EWU production pays homage to the fears of becoming an adult
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Walking into EWU’s Mainstage Theatre, I didn’t know what to expect from a musical called “Avenue Q.” I had heard the ample warnings of its adult content, and I had accepted that it would probably take me back to when I was younger and fancied watching Sesame Street, but as I sat down and watched the opening number, I felt my reservations dim and my admiration for EWU’s production blossoming.
Described as a coming-of-age tale of the “you’re special” millennial generation, “Avenue Q” highlights what it’s like to enter adulthood, with all its reservations, hopes and dreams and bad decisions that help propel you through your early 20s. Princeton, a puppet who just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English, comes to the neighborhood of Avenue Q looking for his purpose in life and meets the rest of the cast, notably a monster puppet by the name of Kate Monster who is a kindergarten teaching assistant.
The two flirt as friends for a good amount of time before they launch into a relationship that mimics the type of erratic courtships a twenty-something college graduate would undoubtedly experience, all while they are both trying to find their way in the world. Other characters, such as Christmas Eve and Brian, are tasked with advancing their established adulthood and growing as a couple. Rod, also a puppet, and perhaps one of the show’s more put together characters, struggles with accepting his sexuality and explores his feelings for his roommate Nicky, who just wants Rod to be himself.
Other notable characters who play vital roles in both the advancement of the plot and in the comedy of the musical are Trekkie Monster, an internet porn addicted monster puppet who lusts for women, the Bad Idea Bears, with their encouragement of drunken pre-marital sex and suicide attempts, and Lucy the Slut, the show’s femme fatale that likes to cause a little trouble now and again.
All these stories included in the small little package of “Avenue Q” are wonderfully scripted by playwright Jeff Whitty and are relevant to any generation living during the time of the production. But what really makes this production of “Avenue Q” shine is the amazing acting, puppeteering and singing by the talented cast. What stuck out to me the most about this play was how flexible the script was. During several moments, in between songs and dialogues, short little jabs at the fourth wall, Donald Trump and other popular culture references, such as a dance moved called “dabbing,” were present in the play’s run. The added touches really brought the play into 2017.
As I stated before, going into the Mainstage Theatre, I had some reservations about how well I was going to like “Avenue Q.” Perhaps it was going to poke intense fun at millennials and mock our strife and struggles, or maybe it was going to remind me just a little too much of the muppets and “Sesame Street.” I also had no idea how practicing with the show’s puppets for such short period of time was going to translate into the casts performance in the production, but for one of the first performances of the show’s set here at EWU, the result of all that hard work was flawless.
In fact, the puppeteering work and the facial expressions of the actors controlling the puppets were perhaps one of my favorite parts of the entire show. It was almost like a game to switch back and forth between the faces of the puppets and the faces of the live actors, trying to spot the slight discrepancies between the two, only to find the rare lapse in a puppet’s expression; it was like the actors were actually connected to their puppets through more than just physical touch.
Although each of the character renditions made by the cast were wonderful, Hannah McLaughlin’s performance as the hands behind Kate Monster was my favorite performance of the night. In almost every scene McLaughlin participated in, I couldn’t believe how well she brought Kate Monster to life. Particularly in the scene where Kate and Princeton first meet, and Kate Monster is seen tucking her hair behind her ears in a nervous manner, the puppeteering is flawlessly executed. McLaughlin’s control of Kate during those moments was what really had me sold on her performance in the show, not to mention her singing skills.
Dominic Betts as Nicky, Ethan Lewan as the male Bad Idea Bear, Skyler Moeder as the female Bad Idea Bear and Scott Worley as Princeton also earn mentions for their outstanding combination of puppeteering skills and amazing acting, but in all, each and every one of the actors demonstrated both phenomenal acting and singing skills.
The band’s performance also amazed and was perfectly tempered, though at times it was hard to understand a few words or phrases spoken by the actors as some of the mics were lower than the music. During the parts where music and singing collided, I had no trouble hearing the words being spoken over the music.
The spotlights on puppets during monologue scenes were also kind of hit and miss, as at times I didn’t think the light was bright enough, but all in all, the lighting, musical aspects and the simple but intriguing and versatile set design of a city block’s exterior really stand on their own as more great aspects of EWU’s production of “Avenue Q.”
If you’re into musical theatre, want to laugh about your potential life after college and don’t mind being given the finger or hounded for money, “Avenue Q” in all its mature glory is a great musical worth seeing. •