Avenue Q

by Andrew Clark

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday July 15, 2013

’Avenue Q’ rocks Philly
’Avenue Q’ rocks Philly  

One of Philadelphia's newer theatre companies, Mazeppa Productions, made a splash last year with an incredible production of the critically acclaimed "Spring Awakening," bringing a fresh and enjoyable view to a recent musical. This year, they similarly tried their hand at the endlessly entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt puppet musical, "Avenue Q."

An out of left field hit almost 10 years ago in the same year as megahits like "Wicked" and "Caroline, or Change," "Avenue Q" went on to come out on top at the Tony awards to win Best Musical in 2004. While I have always enjoyed the music of the show, it took seeing Mazeppa's charming production to fully understand its acclaim. It is a show that seamlessly mixes emotion, comedy, music and a sometimes unnerving relatability to create a perfect night of theater.

The show is cast with a mix of puppets and humans, but this isn't Sesame Street as you remember it. With song topics ranging from racism, a broken heart, life goals and a certain character's decision to go commando, each of the characters reflects more of an everyday person rather than an idealistic puppet. It is also a theatre company's dream. The show is so tightly written and dynamic in its approach to theatre that it practically produces itself.

This is not to say that it doesn't need an able-bodied cast and most importantly chemistry between them. Sure the jokes are hilarious and the songs engaging, but with a flat cast it would have been infuriating to hear them ruin a good show. Luckily, Mazeppa's cast was blindingly synchronized and entertaining.

It is a show that seamlessly mixes emotion, comedy, music, and a sometimes unnerving relatability to create a perfect night of theatre.

It is no small feat to be both puppet and human convincingly, but the actors were so at home with their sometimes multiple roles that it was easy to focus solely on the material. This was important considering how constantly busy the staging of such a musical is.

Of particular note was an emotionally connected Angela Leone as Kate Monster and the non-stop entertaining antics of Sam Nagel as Nicky, Trekkie Monster, and one of the hilarious Bad Idea Bears.

"Avenue Q" is the type of show that could be easy to dismiss based on its inclusion of slapstick comedy and puppets to achieve its message, but that would be a grave mistake. Its simplistic and in some ways innocent approach to discussing relationships, finding one's life purpose, comfort with one's sexuality and how to value the people in your life are as poignant and important as any other show you are likely to see.

And yet, even during its heavier moments it is never preachy or self-satisfied. It truly feels like the characters are your friends and trying to figure things out the same way you are. In a world full of tragic love stories or an agenda pushing theatre, "Avenue Q" continues to be a breath of fresh air and even fresher perspective. Luckily, Mazeppa Productions have succeeded in bringing all of that to its production for Philadelphia to experience.

"Avenue Q" runs through July 27 at the Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St, in Philadelphia. For tickets or information, call 267-559-9602 or visit http://www.mazeppaproductions.org/