It is very rare than you see a musical where every role is ideally cast, and even more unexpected in a show where the majority of the actors are acting as puppeteers. However, the Other Voices Theatre production of Avenue Q: The Musical is perfectly cast and executed to evoke laughs at every available opportunity.
Imaginatively directed by Jason Hoffman and excellently musically directed by Thom Huenger, Avenue Q: The Musical tells the story of a group of 20-somethings just out of college, learning important adult lessons about life and love. The musical, written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx with a book by Jeff Whitty, is a wonderfully witty adult spoof of the children’s classic series Sesame Street, where onstage actors operate puppets as the main characters.
As leading couple Princeton and Kate Monster, Eric Jones and Karen Heyser-Paone are truly unstoppable comedic forces. As individual performers, Jones and Heyser-Paone are both incredible, but combined, their comedic timing and chemistry is a force to be reckoned with.
Eric Jones was wonderful as protagonist Princeton. His delivery was charming and sincere while never in danger of becoming too sappy. Jones had a superb character voice and excelled at the physicality involved in manipulating his puppet as the actor onstage for the majority of the show.
Karen Heyser-Paone gives a phenomenal performance as Kate Monster. Her comedic quips, incredibly saccharine character voice and impeccable timing form a sweet and sincere character. Her solo “It’s a Fine, Fine Line” was one of the best moments of the production and provided an incredibly deep and emotional moment in the middle of an otherwise hilarious and over-the-top production.
Zane Oberholzer was outstanding as closeted investment banker, Rod. His solo “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” was hilarious and his movement was phenomenal as the character dives deeper and deeper into denial. Kevin O’Grady was fantastic as Rod’s well meaning and laid-back roomate, Nicky. O’Grady displayed one of the best character voices in the show and made the character instantly loveable for the audience. As as obvious parody of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, Oberholzer and O’Grady had a fantastic rapport onstage and all of their scenes together were expertly timed.
Jeremy Trammelle is incredible as amateur comic Brian. His laid-back charisma and fantastic energy was a lovely contrast to Arielle Pizana, who is adorable and delightfully short tempered as Brian’s Asian wife, Christmas Eve. Though Pizana is a little younger than the traditional age range for the role, she is wonderfully spunky and her sharp mood switches and impeccable timing greatly added to the production. Her song “The More You Ruv Someone” was one of the highlights of Act Two.
As former child star Gary Coleman, LaTasha Dozia-Earley is wonderfully sassy and displays a stellar attitude. Her perfectly timed facial expressions or eyebrow raises were often enough to evoke a laugh.
Kari Cole is sensual and seductive as Lucy T. Slut and her audience interactions with the male audience members were amazing. In a very difficult feat in this production, Will Heyser-Paone manages to steal the show as Trekkie Monster. His gravelly character voice, hilarious outbursts and over-the-top comedic timing made the character unforgettable.
Katie Moore and Maggie O’Grady were absolutely adorable as the Bad Idea Bears. Hearing alcoholic and sexual ideas shouted out in little-girl voices from two sprightly, child-like actresses never ceased to be funny.
Christine Galante displayed excellent character work as school teacher Mrs. Thistletwat and one of her physical gags in Act Two was outstanding.
Ian Anderson, Katie Johnson, and Adam Schwartz rounded out the excellent ensemble with a variety of unique characters. The dance numbers, brilliantly choreographed by Alberta Shulman, involved wonderfully imaginative movement for both the human and puppet dancers and great interactions between the humans and puppets while dancing in kick lines and other challenging formations. The opening number of “The Avenue Q Theme” was a particularly impressive dance number.
The set, cleverly designed by Timothy Huth and Kyle Huth, depicts the traditional three apartment buildings on Avenue Q while leaving enough space for the ensemble to move and dance and utilizes hidden flats to extend set pieces. In addition, a TV screen, mounted on the upstage left wall, is greatly used for the video projections which spoof the Sesame Street counting and reading lessons with more adult topics. The projections are shown during scene changes and other necessary moments in the show. Special mention also goes to Sean P. Harrington, who designed and built many of the colorful and wacky puppets used in the production.
The two outstanding songs in the production were “The Internet is for Porn” and “You Can Be As Loud as the Hell You Want.” Each production number managed to push the envelope a little more and, just when you think the cast can’t possibly top the number they just performed, they go one step further. The production also included some surprise cameos from other well-known puppet characters.
For a hilariously heartfelt musical and one of the best productions in the Frederick area so far this year, go visit Avenue Q: The Musical at Other Voices Theatre.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Avenue Q: The Musical plays through August 2, 2015 at Other Voices Theatre performing at the Performing Arts Factory – 244 South Jefferson Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-3722, or purchase them online.
Note: Avenue Q: The Musical does contain a parental advisory for adult content, featuring language and full puppet nudity. The show is not intended for children.