July 9, 2008

‘Avenue Q’ Hits a Home Run

By Mark Lowry, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Jul. 9--FORT WORTH -- Puppets say the darnedest things.

And in the Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q, the tour of which made its North Texas debut Tuesday at Bass Hall, they say some very shocking things (unless you have, ahem, already committed the cast recording to memory).

But what's more shocking than the naughty words coming from these adorable creations is that the lessons they speak and sing about -- racism, acceptance, love and the show's star word, "purpose" -- are deceptively thought-provoking. Well, the kind of thought that might be provoked by children and puppet creatures on, say, a wildly popular children's program that Avenue Q greatly resembles.

When they're not making you laugh yourself unconscious, they hit home.

Thanks to the performers, this Q (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty) hits it out of the park.

Usually in puppetry, the puppeteer is not meant to be seen, so that audiences are to believe the puppet is speaking and emoting. Here, one or two puppeteers manipulate the arms and mouths of the rod puppets, but they also sing and visibly act as extensions of their foam-rubber counterparts.

It's gotta be harder than it looks, especially when a cast handles it this effortlessly.

The clear standout was Maggie Lakis as the show's sweet but unlucky-in-love kindergarten teacher, Kate Monster (Lakis, an understudy for Anika Larsen, also winningly plays the busty nightclub singer Lucy). Robert McClure also amazed as the human behind two other major puppets, the just-out-of-college Princeton and gay stockbroker Rod.

Both of these performers not only had to sing and speak different voices for their characters (even when, occasionally, one of their characters is on the arm of another puppeteer), but they mirror the physical actions and expressions of the character.

Of the three actors playing human characters (like Sesame Street, a group of racially diverse humans interacts with the puppets), Angela Ai as Japanese therapist Christmas Eve and Fort Worth native Erica Robinson as former child actor Gary Coleman turn in hysterical work.

Also, animated send-ups of the Sesame Street counting and word exercises are pure genius. This week, Bass Hall has the most entertaining avenue in town.

Avenue Q 7:30 tonight and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 & 7 p.m. Sunday

Bass Hall, Fort Worth


817-332-2272 or 817-212-4280; www.casamanana.org

Good to know: $25 orchestra-level seats are available one hour before curtain at all performances

Be advised: Strong language and shocking sexual content (including puppet sex!)

Runtime: Two hours, 20 minutes with an intermission

Best reason to go: There are so many clever aspects and many great performances, it's hard to choose. Have I mentioned ...puppet sex?


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