Sunday, January 22, 2012

AVENUE Q • [insert name here] Theatre Company

[insert name here] Theatre Company, recently a project under the wing of Stray Dog Theatre, took a hiatus in 2011, but now they're back with this dynamic furry-faced coming-of-age musical that still maintains its edge.  Debuting on Broadway in 2003, this Tony Award winning musical may have puppets in it, but as lovable as they are, they're often naughty and foul-mouthed, so leave the kids at home.  For the rest of you, sit back and enjoy this energetic cast of humans, and their fuzzy counter-parts as they all endeavor to find their way in a fictitious neighborhood in New York City -- winking, dirty and Sesame Street style.  Yay!!!

Princeton (Wes Jenkins), having just graduated with a B.A. in English, is off on his own looking for a place to live.  Avenue A is completely out of the question.  Too much $$$$, but Avenue Q looks affordable.  Shortly after moving into the neighborhood, Princeton learns that life after college can kick your ass, once he's laid off 7 seconds after signing his lease on an apartment.  The landlord is Gary Coleman (Nki Calloway).  That's right -- the Gary Coleman, and INH Theatre Co. continues the tradition of casting this character as a black woman (love), and Nki Calloway has a strong voice and does a great job as the put-upon landlord -- a child-star who has had to sue his parents.  Princeton soon gets to know the rest of his neighbors.  There's Kate Monster (Connie Reinhardt), a cute monster who's a kindergarten teacher, Trekkie Monster (Paul Cereghino), a monster with a soft spot for internet porn, (one of the best numbers in the show -- worth the price of admission) Rod (Wes Jenkins) a closeted homosexual and his roommate Nicky (Paul Cereghino) along with a couple of Bad Idea Bears (Troyer Coultas) -- hilarious.  There's also our humans -- Brian (Troy Turnipseed) an aspiring comic, and his Asian fiancee, Christmas Eve (Nicole Robbins), a therapist with no clients along with the aforementioned Gary Coleman.

It's cozy in the LGBT Center of St. Louis, where the show is performed, and because I've been to more than a few meetings in their upstairs space, I was curious to see how they would pull it off.  With seating for around 70 or so, there's not a lot of room for the actors to perform, but they make the most of every inch, and have transformed the Center nicely.  There were a couple of lighting miscues the night I saw it and some of the technical aspects of the show were a little unpolished, but I'm sure that will smooth out as the run continues.

The puppets look great -- impressive replicas of the Broadway versions, so kudos to Character Translations, Inc.  The actor/puppeteers were fantastic with their puppeteering skills -- also a credit to the director, Chris Owens, who did an excellent job with this show.  Mind you, sometimes the actors take on different puppets, and sometimes they voice puppets that they aren't operating.  A tricky little maneuver that this cast handles with aplomb.  Connie Reinhardt is one that pulls double-duty as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut.  She eventually settles into the higher vocal range of Kate Monster, but she shines as Lucy the Slut, and her performance is committed and quite good.  She also bears an eerie resemblance to Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who originated the role on Broadway.  Wes Jenkins is wonderful as Princeton and Rod -- another double duty role that he commits to completely.  Paul Cereghino's Trekkie Monster, Nicky and Ricky was splendid.  He's so cute, too.  Nicole Robbins was very funny as Christmas Eve.  Vely, vely funny!  <-- Get it?!  No offense intended...

This score is full of numbers with beautifully layered harmonies, and the cast nailed them -- high-fives to Lea Eilers's vocal direction.  Here's what I love about this show -- the tunes are very "Sesame Street" -- catchy, tuneful little numbers that are a joy to listen to.  Earworms.  Whether the number is about internet porn, racism or sex, these melodies and harmonies get into your head and stick -- just like those nifty Sesame Street tunes.  Love…
Let's face it -- it's neat hearing puppets say "fuck".  Better yet, it's neat actually seeing puppets...  fuck.  It's a grand time that's only going on for one more weekend.  Go see it!  Oh, and this show got a mention in one of my previous blogs -- again -- leave the kids at home.  Unless you're like a hippy or something, which I think is totally cool.


Book by Jeff Whitty
Lyrics/music by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx
Directed by Chris Owens 
The LGBT Center of St. Louis, 4337 Manchester Ave.
through January 28 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Wes Jenkins (Princeton/Rod), Troy Turnipseed (Brian), Connie Reinhardt (Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut), Paul Cereghino (Trekkie Monster/Nicky/Ricky), Nicole Robbins (Christmas Eve), Nki Calloway (Gary Coleman), Bryant Fogelbach (Bad Idea Bear/Ricky) and Troyer Coultas (Bad Idea Bears/Newcomer).

Vocal direction by Lea Eilers; music direction by Joseph Eckelkamp; choreography by Kelly Stevens; lighting and sound design by Lucas T. Pate; scenic design by Kyle Jeffery; animation design by Robert Lopez; puppet design by Character Translations, Inc.; graphic design by Lucas T. Pate; stage manager, Matt Schneider.

Keyboard 1, Joseph Eckelkamp; keyboard 2, Tim Clark; percussion, Clarence "Clancy" Newell; bass, Chad Haley; reed, Rebeca Parisi.

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