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Theatre VCU Avenue Q

By • Nov 12th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Avenue Q
Theatre VCU
VCU – Singleton Performing Arts Center, Richmond, VA
Through December 2nd
2:20 with one intermission
$25/$20 Seniors, VCU Faculty and Staff/$10 VCU Students
Reviewed November 10th, 2012

Every theater geek has their “bucket list” of shows they’ve always wanted to see. For me, one of my top 3 has been Avenue Q. I was so excited to finally get to see it at Theatre VCU, but I was disappointed — because as a reviewer, I promised myself I would never do a review that is all positive or all negative; but there is positively nothing negative to say about this production. This group of college students put on what was clearly the most professional show I have seen in the ten years I have lived in Virginia. And from the enthusiastic standing ovation the sellout crowd gave, even before curtain calls started; I believe the rest of the audience agreed with me.

For those, who like me, had never seen Avenue Q — it is an adult version of “Sesame Street;” complete with puppets and the humans they share their neighborhood with. And when I say “adult” it’s not just seeing puppets cursing (so inappropriate yet so hysterical) but even seeing puppets have sex (lost count on just how many positions they managed to get them into). Be prepared for songs on racism, sex, pornography and Schadenfreude (look it up). Ron Keller’s lavish set not only has the feel of that certain PBS show; but really feels like a NYC neighborhood of rundown two-story brownstones; complete with very realistic looking bricks and concrete steps.

The entire cast gushed with that happy, energetic, “gosh shucks, we’re so cute” attitude you’d expect from a group of puppets and those who hang out with them. They each created fantastic characters and voices, so much so that I may run out of superlatives to distinguish between them. The biggest challenges are for the actors portraying and carrying the puppets. They each did a phenomenal job of making the audience forget there was a human standing there with them; and yet moved in unison with their puppets and maintained appropriate body and facial expressions that enhanced rather than detracted from the stars – the puppets.

The main characters Princeton (Shane Moran) and Kate Monster (Maggie Horan) were the focus of the story — young people (or puppets) looking for love and their place in this world. They were fun, fresh and just so darned likeable. Their characterizations and singing voices are truly ready for Broadway. Rod (Alan Vollmer) and Nicky (Brent Gallahan) bore a striking resemblance to a certain Bert and Ernie (with a couple of twists). They had many of the funniest scenes (if that’s possible) and Gallahan, along with Mahlon Raoufi (Trekkie Monster, who sounds an awful lot like a certain monster that likes cookies) had the two must consistently “muppet-ish” sounding voices. Max Ehrlich and Emily Marsh did their share of laugh stealing as the adorable yet evil “Bad Idea Bears.” Even those with “supporting roles,” Morgan Meadows (Ms. Thistletwat), Catherine Regan (Lucy the slut) and Ian Stearns (Ricky) were energetic, enthusiastic and fun to watch.

The humans, Max Moore (Brian), Claire Yenson (Christmas Eve) and Tiffany Byrd (Gary Coleman), also did a stellar job in creating characters that seemed at home living amongst puppets. Special praises to Yenson and Byrd, whose characters presented a different set of challenges from the puppeteers. Yenson did a great job with an over-the-top, yet non-offensive Oriental character; which was consistent yet understandable. At times, Byrd lost some of the deeper “boyishness” in her vocalizations, and you were reminded it was a woman, but most of the time she did a great job with the walk, cheesy smiles and attitude of Gary Coleman.

Again, having not seen this show before, there are some things I am not sure whether to praise or criticize as unique to this production, or not. Director Patti D’Beck’s blocking well utilized the stage, which was almost completely theater in the round, except for part of one side where the buildings were. Even with a sellout crowd, each side of the audience almost always had something interesting to watch, and except for scenes when only one character was on stage; rarely were left watching a back. Exits and entrances were varied and interesting. I am not sure if it is the “theater in the round” stage or the way the show was written; but scenes that were supposed to be taking place in an interior apartment were staged outside with a window of the building open to give you the “essence” of being in that apartment. For me, those scenes might have worked better if moved slightly forward and if they brought in just a small backdrop on wheels. The two large flat screen tvs that played “cartoon-like” sequences throughout the play were a great touch. Again, I’m not sure if these were a part of the package when they got the rights to the show; but if they were produced locally they were truly professional! Likewise, utilizing a song called “The Money Song” to collect money for “Freedom House” in Richmond was a great innovative, personalized local touch.

Rebecca K. Brooks’ lighting designed added a great deal to the mood and atmosphere of the show; however, there were a few times where lighting cues were missed slightly (on or off too soon) or actors were just slightly out of the light. The lighting effects after the wedding scene were especially noteworthy and impressive. Gloria Kim’s costumes were spot on. Leilani Ciles should be very proud of both her vocalists and the live band backstage; who were all perfect in pitch and timing.

Despite wanting to maintain my reserved, dignified “critic” demeanor, I could not stop smiling and laughing out loud throughout the play. As the final number says, “It’s Only For Now,” so make sure and find the time to see Theatre VCU’s production of Avenue Q before it ends December 2.

Photo Gallery

Photo 1 Photo 2
Photo 3 Photo 4

Photos provided by Theatre VCU

The Cast (in order of appearance)

  • Princeton: Shane Moran
  • Brian: Max Moore
  • Kate Monster: Maggie Horan
  • Rod: Alan Vollmer
  • Nicky: Brent Gallahan
  • Nicky’s arm/Ms. Thistletwat: Morgan Meadows
  • Christmas Eve: Claire Yenson
  • Gary Coleman: Tiffany Byrd
  • Trekkie Monster: Mahlon Raoufi
  • Trekkie Monster’s arm/Ricky: Ian Stearns
  • Boy Bad Idea Bear: Max Ehrlich
  • Girl Bad Idea Bear: Emile Marsh
  • Lucy the Slut: Catherine Regan

The Band

  • Piano 1/Conductor: Faith John
  • Keyboards: Starlet Knight
  • Percussion: Bentley Cobb
  • Reeds: Ron Fix
  • Guitar: Grant Oliver
  • Bass: Derrick Englert

The Crew

  • Director: Patti D’Beck
  • Associate Director: Valerie Accetta
  • Musical Director: Leilani Giles
  • Technical Director: Alan Williamson
  • Associate Technical Director: Matthew Grisdela
  • Puppet Coach: Matthew Lewis Johnson
  • Vocal Coach: Susan Schuld
  • Stage Manager: Sarah B. Worden
  • Scene Designer: Ron Keller
  • Lighting Designer: Rebecca K. Brooks
  • Costume Designer: Gloria Kim
  • Sound Designer: Jesse Free
  • Prop Master: Chris Foote
  • Associate Choreographer: J. Clayton Winters

Disclaimer: Theatre VCU provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is by day a Special Education teacher, teaching History, Science and drama to Middle and High School students in a private Day School in Stafford. He has degrees in Educational Media and Special Education. He is also a part time Radio News Anchor and occasional actor in the Richmond area. Bruce is a native of New Jersey and spent most of his "adult" life in Upstate New York, where he started and ran a national award winning youth theater and cable television program for over 10 years. He has lived in Virginia since 2002, and in Caroline County since 2005, where he is active in many community groups; including serving on the Board of Caroline's Promise.

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