It isn’t always easy to find truly daring productions in community theater.
But Rochester Repertory Theatre has broken out of the box in a big way with “Avenue Q,” a wonderfully witty show that opened last Friday. This adults-only version of “Sesame Street”-related characters and lessons–complete with Muppet-style puppets-is not your standard fare.
“It took a lot of courage for us to do this,” one Rep board member said after Friday’s opening. The Rep was rewarded Friday with a sold-out house, raucous cheers and a standing ovation.
It’s fitting that this show is directed by Jeanne Skattum, who was a co-founder of the Rep 35 years ago, because “Avenue Q” hews closely to the Rep’s original and long-standing mission to stage works that challenge actors and audiences alike.
The obvious challenge for both in this show is the puppetry. For actors, the ability to create a character while simultaneously working a puppet, is paramount. For audiences, it takes a few scenes to get past the puppetry and realize it’s not just a gimmick.
In no time at all, though, we are caught up in the real-life challenges of these characters who are adjusting to young adulthood. They struggle to start careers, pay rent, find love.
The central characters are Princeton and Kate Monster, puppets in the capable hands and voices of Dylon Starr and Krista Monson. They are joined by Rod and Nicky (modeled on Bert and Ernie?) who are worked by Jace Gray and Eric Pahnisch. Trekkie Monster (who unlike Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster prefers internet porn to cookies) is handled by Rich Mansfield. Rae Ann Gotch handles the seductress Lucy, while Ethan Scot Savage and Eleanore Sutherland are the Bad Idea Bears.
Meanwhile, Casey Saunders, Alicia Frarck and Dominique Jones are non-puppeteers. Jones has a fun part as Gary Coleman, the former child TV actor.
Song titles such as “It Sucks to Be Me,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada,” and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College,” hint at the irreverent nature of this show. The music is directed by Jon Davis, with vocal direction by Catherine Davis.
The unusually colorful set is by Paul Skattum, with lights by Ben Hain.
“Avenue Q,” written by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, is naughty, demented, clever, sweet, and once in a while a bit too cute. Its message of inclusion and empathy and helping others, though, can’t be repeated often enough.
Finally, “Avenue Q” is unlike anything else you’ll see on local stages. Luckily, they Rep has the courage to present it.
Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin March 18, 2019