|Emily Mulligan-Ferry, Pete Good, Brittney Mack, Toby Yatso, |
Aya Nameth, Colin Ross and Marisha Castle
"The musical Avenue Q has been described as "Sesame Street" for grown-ups. It is full of R-rated laughs and mature situations combined with humorous songs and heartfelt life lessons that any adult would understand. The show won three 2004 Tony Awards, including those for Best Musical and Best Score, and is still running, now Off-Broadway, in New York. The Phoenix Theatre presented the show in 2011 and has brought it back for a seven week return engagement. The new production features excellent creative elements, spot on direction, and a hilarious cast that includes two actors who appeared in the previous Phoenix Theatre production.
Using a combination of human actors and muppet-like puppets, Avenue Q focuses on a group of young adults, all of whom are searching for their "purpose" in life. Recent college grad Princeton finds out he can only afford an apartment in a seedy neighborhood located on Avenue Q. The building's tenants are made up of both humans and monsters and include roommates Rod and Nicky (who are modeled on "Sesame Street"'s Bert and Ernie), the human couple Brian and his Japanese fiancé Christmas Eve, Kate and Trekkie who are monsters, and the superintendent who looks a lot like child TV star Gary Coleman. Together they struggle with life's ups and downs, but when a steady stream of obstacles are thrown in the way, they find their search for stable relationships, good jobs and happiness isn't as easy as they'd hoped.
Director Robert Kolby Harper has assembled a top-notch cast of actors, all of whom excel with at portraying the wide range of comical moments and humorous traits of each character. I saw the show several times on Broadway and this cast is just as good. They are more than capable, with the vocal skills needed to handle the requirements of the score, and those who have to handle the puppets do so with polished puppeteering skills. There truly isn't a weak link in the cast.
Toby Yatso and Emily Mulligan-Ferry were also in the Phoenix Theatre's 2011 production of the show. Yatso plays two puppet characters, the recent college grad Princeton and Rod, an uptight, in the closet, but very gay Republican. With a quick wit and expressive facial expressions, Yatso perfectly gets across both the idealistic Princeton, who discovers things in life aren't as easy as he'd hoped for, and the buttoned up, completely in denial Rod. Rod overreacts to many things and Yatso's ability to go from calm and sane to out and out frantic craziness is a joy to experience. Mulligan-Ferry does a solid job of playing both the warmhearted school teaching assistant Kate Monster and the ultra-risqué Lucy the Slut. Yatso and Mulligan-Ferry both have numerous scenes in which they have to quickly alternate between both of their characters and they do so with ease. Yatso uses a hysterical voice for Rod and Mulligan-Ferry an appropriately sultry voice for Lucy that help to distinguish between their characters. Mulligan-Ferry also has a lovely, rich singing voice which she gets to show off on a couple of Kate's songs.
Avenue Q is a combination of human actors and puppets, songs that cover a range of topics from racism to sexuality as well as heart-felt ones about finding one's purpose, and several interjected animated educational cartoons. With this combination, Lopez, Marx and Whitty have created an adult version of "Sesame Street" that lovingly mocks and portrays what an adult version of that show would be like. But, while the show is a spoof of "Sesame Street" with many laugh out loud, and very R-rated moments, it also has heart and identifiable characters and situations. Phoenix Theatre's production of the show is on-par with the Broadway production, with a talented cast, first rate creative elements and perfect direction.
Avenue Q runs through May 25, 2014, at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling (602) 254-2151
Photo: Phoenix Theatre