Saturday, June 18, 2011

- Theater Review - Avenue Q

Eastlight Theatre continues their twentieth season with the Friday night opening of the regional premier of "Avenue Q".

"Avenue Q" is a delightful play, smart and funny. It is a parody (extension?) of Sesame Street.
Unlike the Muppets, these puppets are definitely not for children.
Rather, they are for those adults who grew up with Sesame Street and now have grown-up issues to face.
And like the denizens of its PBS inspiration, these puppets also have life lessons to relay.

The cast consists of three human characters and a gaggle of hand puppets. All the actors/puppeteers are clearly visible as they speak and sing for their characters.

The play requires talents beyond the actors' usual abilities to sing and dance. Here, they also must move and manipulate the puppets in such a manner that the actors soon become lost in their fabric alter-egos.
It is definitely a challenge for an amateur group to do well.

Damon Hackett, making his directorial debut here, delivers the most professional and exciting production on the Eastlight stage since "Rent".

All the actors/puppeteers execute their roles flawlessly, even when there are two actors controlling one puppet. In this situation, they must move in tandem around the stage and still maintain the believability of the puppet character.

Aside from the technical aspects of the performance, there are some beautiful voices that deliver the clever lyrics just as they were intended.

Assembled here are some of our favorite actors as well as some exciting new faces.

Jarod Hazzard and Kates Sitton shine as the sweet young lovers, Princeton and Kate Monster.

Chip Joyce and Adam Sitton are wonderful as roommates Nicky and Rod (think Bert and Ernie with a gayER edge). Both of these actors are pillars of the local theater community and they deliver the performances here that we have come to expect.

The role of Brian, the wannabe comic, is perfectly suited to Derek Pitzer's considerable talents.
And he certainly delivers the goods, as does Phil Raso as the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster. Mr. Raso nails Trekkie's voice perfectly.

Chris Black and Kyle King are audience favorites as the Bad Idea Bears.

Dominique Reid makes her Eastlight debut as Gary Coleman (yes, THAT Gary Coleman!). I have seen Ms. Reid in some relatively minor roles in Bradley Theater productions, but her first post-graduation performance here is so impressive that I sure hope to see her again soon on local stages.

Some other 'new faces' are Kristen Williams as Lucy The Slut and Carmen McCarthy as Brian's Asian wife Christmas Eve. Ms. Williams brings the required over-the-top sexuality to the role of Lucy.
Ms. McCarthy manages to make the role of Christmas Eve pivotal to the action of the entire play. Her performance is nothing short of amazing.

I have seen this show professionally, here and in London, and I would put this cast and this direction up against those any day.
Yes, it's that good.

My one and only disappointment with this production is the ill-advised decision to censor the "simulated puppet sex" scene. Is it really any more risque than left-in lyrics such as "she sucks like a hoover", etc.??
If you are going to do theater, please do it as written and respect the intelligence of your audience enough to allow them to decide their own level of tolerance and maturity!

Having said that, this play is still one that must not be missed.

Seeing this performance of "Avenue Q" so soon after Peoria Players' "Drowsy Chaperone" makes me grateful to live in a community with such quality theater options.

The show runs through June 25th at Byron Moore Auditorium in East Peoria High School. Reserve your tickets today by calling 699-SHOW.


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