“Avenue Q” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ February 28, 2011


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

“Avenue Q” is an adult-inspired “Sesame Street” musical complete with insightful and hilarious puppets who take pointedly direct viewpoints and feelings about contemporary life. In its first local run, Phoenix Theatre mounts a fantastic production that rivals the superb Broadway version.

Phoenix Theatre rented the Broadway puppets and imported the show’s original puppeteer/designer, Rick Lyon, to teach the local cast how to manipulate his creations. The cast has mastered the tricky machinations of operating the outspoken puppets brilliantly and they do it so naturally that you’d think they’d been doing “Avenue Q” forever.

Let’s get the warnings out right off. “Avenue Q” is a very adult piece. The often raunchy language includes words and actions usually avoided on stage. The puppets appear nude and are amazingly outspoken in their pointed assessments of contemporary life but what they say and do brings raucous laughter. Attend “Avenue Q” with an open mind and enjoy the cleverly funny slants on life. Of course, leave the little ones home but bring mature and aware teens who will no doubt laugh loudly.

We are in a New York City borough where rents are cheap and the colorful residents, a mixture of puppets and real characters, are beginning to tackle life’s complexities. As different issues develop, they weigh in on how they feel and they react with fervor. Relationships, marriage, jobs, gays, racism, and everyday things come up naturally for Rod, a banker, his roommate Nicky, Princeton, a new street resident, Kate Monster, a relationship-lacking kindergarten aide, slutty Lucy, and Trekkie Monster who believes the Internet is for porn. Other puppet characters add along with the domineering Christmas Eve, her husband Brian, and building superintendent Gary Coleman whose money-grubbing parents stole his child-acting earnings.

Detailing the plot would ruin it but the relationships and the challenges of discovering life’s realities are presented uproariously in Jeff Whitty’s book and through Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx clever and catchy songs that add more hysterics. The show also includes poignant reflections as relationships grow and characters realize the importance of others.

Robert Kolby Harper’s staging zips along in front of a perfect set. An extraordinary cast handles the puppets with remarkable ease adding much humor and touching sincerity. There isn’t a performer here who isn’t equal to or better than Broadway’s originals. Those who manipulate puppets play multiple roles and Toby Yatso, Emily Mulligan-Ferry, David Errigo, Jr., and Jenn Taber create unique voices as they bring the puppets to life. Rose Bae’s Christmas Eve, Adam Vargas’ Brian, and Yolanda London’s Gary Coleman add brilliantly to the puppet characters.

“Avenue Q” is a sharp, timely, and witty show in an exemplary production that continues through March 20. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A