Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
If we imagine a millennial version of “Sesame Street”, we can begin to understand the musical entertainment and educational appeal of Clio Cast & Crew’s newest production, Avenue Q. Puppet-centric, slightly bawdy but still comically clever, this Tony Award winner written by Jeff Whitty with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx is a must see show! The puppets alone, plus the ease with which they are handled and perform, makes the price of admission worthwhile.
As to the story line, a young man fresh out of college comes to New York with big dreams but no money. Princeton (Josh Bleau) finds that Avenue Q is all he can afford, but that turns out to be a wonderfully diverse place filled with a bunch of funny folk that keep life certainly interesting. A comical number, “It Sucks To Be Me”, introduces the residents including the three non-puppet people, Brian (Steve Yerian), Christmas Eve (Nicole Dunckel), and the super in charge, Gary Coleman (Rolecia Looney). They are joined by the puppets including sweet Kate Monster (Kristen Ann Seeley), Rod (Shane Welch), Nicky (Duane Dunckel) and of course, Princeton.
This is a heavily sung show – one musical number after another with only short vignettes to string them together – but it flows very nicely. It is also broadly issue driven touching on race, homosexuality, and pornography as well as loneliness, excess, and the big one here – Purpose.
We didn’t really find a weak link in this show. Every performer was on top of their game – deftly manipulating puppets even when things went wrong. Most are rod puppets (think Muppets) and Bleau was terrific at covering a broken rod early on. His puppet never missed a gesture. Later poor Princeton had a more extraordinary body part malfunction which we’re pretty sure won’t happen again, but was pretty funny at the time! Bleau handled it all with panache.
We were impressed with Trekkie Monster, the two-man puppet in the upper window. This amazing beast came to life at the hands of Chris Dunckel and Steve Morgan and made a huge impression in the number “The Internet Is For Porn” as he constantly interrupted Kate Monster’s song.
Another outstanding number found Princeton, Kate, Gary, Brian and Christmas Eve discussing the notions that “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”.
Just when everything was moving smoothly along came Lucy T. Slut (Jessi Jeane) with her sultry song about being “Special”. This sexy torch singer threw a relationship monkey wrench around for a while, but it was worth it to hear the strength of Jeane’s vocals.
Two others weren’t often heard singing, but the Bad Idea Bears (Jeff Rogner & Aly Olmstead) were a hoot with their temptations and wacky ideas for doing just the wrong thing!
Still, there was always balance such as Little Kate Monster’s lovely ballad “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” that showed off the variety of Seeley’s vocal range. It was a highlight also.
Indeed, the vocal stylings of all three ladies were topnotch. Nicole Dunckel’s “Asian” character was terrific and her vocals soared throughout but especially well singing “The More You Ruv Someone”.
Directors Adam Iaquinto and Stevie Visser are to be commended for assembling this large group of evenly talented performers. Surely the ease of characterization we observed even while manipulating large puppets is a credit to directorial effort. Add to that the fluid movement of a large cast (22) on what was a somewhat depth limited set.
Speaking of the set, the reproduction of a city street in a crowed neighborhood is very well done with three believable apartment doors, stoops, workable windows and a second story picture window for Trekkie.
We could go on and on, but let’s just say, this show was a delightful surprise given that we weren’t sure what to expect. We would warn that this show is billed For Mature Audiences. As for us old folks, we’d see it again!
Avenue Q continues at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd., Clio through June 17. For information and tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com