‘Avenue Q’ at Dominion Stage by Jessica Vaughan

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Dominion Stage’s Avenue Q is hilarious and touching. The musical debuted Off- Broadway in 2003 and the story of a young English major drifting through his first year out of college is even more relevant these days. Even so, Dominion Stage did a fantastic job of brushing up all the little cultural references – like puppets gangham style – while keeping the fine balance between shocking and hilarious of the original play. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx dreamed this up and wrote the music and lyrics. Jeff Whitty wrote the book. They received Tony Awards for both, in addition to the coveted Best Musical statue in 2004.

Avenue Q is billed as ‘Sesame Street for grown ups’ (though the real Sesame Street is not remotely involved) and part of the unique charm of Avenue Q is that over half the actors are puppets. The puppeteers stand on stage in black with their puppets and real people play their neighbors as they all learn every day lessons through song and dance, such as “the Internet is for porn” and “the more you love someone, the more you want to kill them.” The script is not remotely PG, but for all the raunchy moments, it retains a surprisingly earnest and hopeful tone. It really is a perfect picture of life after college – messy, but oh so optimistic!

The cast of 'Avenue Q' at Dominion Stage: ith Dave Moretti, Mark Shaffstall, Jeremy Austin, Nathan Tatro, Patrick Graham, Evangeline Angelica, Kevin Kevo DeMine, Helen Bard-Sobola, Christopher Guy Thorn, Marianne Meyers, Devon Ross, Heather Friedman, Amy Baska, Amanda Cane, Jennifer Rubio, Jonathan Fair, Katy Chmura, Lindsey McClenathan, Tom Flatt, Chris Rios, DonMike H. Mendoza and Sam Nystrom. Photo by Jarrett Baker | theatre-image.com.
The cast of ‘Avenue Q’ at Dominion Stage: With Mark Shaffstall, Jeremy Austin, Nathan Tatro, Patrick Graham, Evangeline Angelica, Kevin Kevo DeMine, Helen Bard-Sobola, Christopher Guy Thorn, Marianne Meyers, Devon Ross, Heather Friedman, Amy Baska, Amanda Cane, Jennifer Rubio, Jonathan Fair, Katy Chmura, Lindsey McClenathan, Tom Flatt, Chris Rios, DonMike H. Mendoza and Sam Nystrom. Photo by Jarrett Baker|theatre-image.com.

Dominion Stage has a history of excellent productions and this marks their 63rd season. This wonderful production is a tribute to that legacy and the cast is a big reason why. The entire ensemble works together better and manages to summon more joy in the work than I’ve seen on stage in a while. They are having so much fun!

Devon Ross (Princeton), the focus of the play, has a dry wit that saves his character from naïveté, as well as the voice to carry his songs. Heather Friedman (Kate Monster) has a wonderful voice and can match Ross’s comic timing. Patrick Graham (Rod) is a standout. He embodies Rod and in an excellent bit of casting, looks a lot like his puppet. Amy Baska (Lucy) is a fabulous puppeteer who made button eyes sexy. The three humans, Sam Nystrom, Evie Korovesis, and Jonathan Faircloth (Brian, Christmas Eve, and Gary Coleman) had a job to do not to be upstaged by all the felt and they succeeded. Korovesis; over-the-top Christmas Eve is hilarious! And the supporting actors were very busy with multiple puppets all over the stage and really added to the milieu.

Director Christopher Guy Thorn did an awesome job pulling this cast together, as I mentioned, and also making this musical play his own with many original puppets and great use of the stage and the myriad sets and props. The story is relatively simple and it could have been swallowed in all the mechanics, but he did not let the little moments pass by nor the chaos overwhelm.

The heart of Avenue Q, of course, is the songs and everyone’s voice did them justice. Evie Korovesis has a beautiful soprano, which made me wish Christmas Eve had a few more songs and Jonathan Faircloth as Gary Coleman was also great. His “Shadenfreude” was gleeful. Music Director and Conductor John-Michael d’Haviland does justice to this very recognizable score with his great band. Choreographer Amanda Cane also deserves applause for her excellent puppet dances that worked seamlessly with their much, much larger dance partners.

Beyond the puppets, which were all fabulous, the costumes were mostly black, but Costume Designers Mikey Torres and Patrick Doneghy did receive spontaneous and prolonged applause from the audience for a wedding dress that defies description. Jared Davis built a wonderful set that really did conjure Sesame Street or any New York street. The tableaus of everyone’s apartments were perfect little glimpses into each character’s life. Lighting Designer Hector Lorenzini did a great job with very complicated blocking.

I was struck again and again at how deceptively simple this show is. It’s just a bunch of neighbors, but in a musical with five to ten locations, two floors, puppets, puppeteers, an ensemble of more puppets and real people…and singing and dancing, that could get lost. The director, crews, and cast really did a great job pulling this off. But in the end more than anything else, the ensemble and their complete delight with the play carried it. Nothing is sacred and they loved to shock, but I left uplifted and inspired by the misfits on Avenue Q.

Dominion Stage’s hilarious and endearing production of Avenue Q is pure irreverent fun!

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo by Jarrett Baker|theatre-image.com.
Photo by Jarrett Baker|theatre-image.com.

Avenue Q  plays through January 26, 2013 at Gunston Theater One – 2700 S. Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 571-DS-SHOWS (571-377-4697), or purchase them online.