The Blue Moon of Blogs: [Review] A+ For Avenue Q!

Once again, a big apologetic shout-out to the non-locals. The artistic community here in mid-Missouri has a direct siphon from my bank account, it seems. There’s just so much damn talent that I have to debrief yet again. This officially marks a new PR for the number of blogs in one day: TWO. I figured the sooner I get this out, the better, because there’s only three more opportunities for the community to catch this, and trust me, you’ll be sad you missed the rollicking racism aria

This review’s disclaimer is brought to you by the Bank of Robin Anderson. Account confirms (unfortunately) that actual money was paid for a ticket, and that no bribery, extortion, or false promises of fame and fortune occurred in the making of this post. So there.

This time, it was the musical Avenue Q, whose local run was put on by Columbia Entertainment Company, a community organization that is older than Father Time. The bathroom walls of the recently-paid-off establishment are plastered with neatly-framed photos from past productions. It’s only my tenth year in this ol’ town, which is just long enough to be caught off guard by some striking shots of my fairly-immediate network of friends and musicians…while washing my hands. Some of those pictures, like their subjects, are aging quite well.

The musical is that one show with all the puppets, which was a unique idea at the time of conception (c. 2003). Having never actually seen the musical until this week (yet ironically taught “Fine Fine Line” to multiple college and high-school voice students), I scrunched my eyebrows at the thought of puppet musical that wasn’t Sesame Street. And yet it really is cleverly done. The residents of Avenue Q are an archetypal mishmosh of characters, some played by puppets and others by humans. There’s Kate Monster, the kind-hearted kindergarten assistant, and Princeton (nice name – ingenious, really), the recent college grad who pursues employment in the big city and is fired before he even starts. Among their neighbors are the couple Brian and Christmas Eve, the hilarious token asian whose accent left me with a stitch in my side (it’s surely no coincidence her stage husband’s name has a “R” in it). Then there’s roommates Rod and Nicky, the former of which grapples with his sexuality, and the latter of whom is OK with his roommate’s GaynessA myriad of other characters – Lucy the Slut, the Trekkie Monster, the Bad News Bears, and even Gary Coleman (LOLZ) neatly round out the cast. The whole show is a tongue in cheek parody of life in the mid-20’s, and is fairly reminiscent of South-Park, whose R-rated yet ingenious musical adaptations have gained critical success (or is that just in my book?). This show is marginally cleaner than South Park, save for a very riveting puppet sex scene (I totally caught the “69” detail on the front door…coincidence? I hope not), and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed that.

technically I took this before the obligatory "ban on photography" announcement. Also, go Mizzou, apparently. Thanks, guy in the front.
technically I took this before the obligatory “ban on photography” announcement. Also, go Mizzou, apparently. Thanks, guy in the front.

I actually volunteered to house-manage last Friday, during the second week of the run. Like an idiot, I somehow walked away without a program to reference or photograph. That’s what I get for recycling. That’s okay, though, because I decided it was worth seeing again and even dragged my recluse husband along and proved his existence to my friends. I’m glad I did, because the cast members seem to have really hit their stride, and there was a considerably higher amount of energy this week. That’s natural in any multi-week run, though.

First off and on a somewhat unrelated note, I have to say KUDOS to these glorious testaments to graphic design:

photo 2 photo 3

CEC, thank you for jumping on the Bandwagon of 21st Century Programs. These little things were quality. I’m no designer, but I appreciate a good color palate and a font choice that isn’t comic sans. They were clean, attractive, and versatile. I’m assuming Celeste Creative was responsible for that, and if so, HOLLA (also, I’m pretty sure I had Celeste’s son in my middle-school choir a few years ago. I am officially a townie).

Here were some of my favorite moments:

Item No. 1: Master Puppeteer Skillz. The ability of actors, poets, and musicians to personify inanimate objects will never cease to amaze me. Of course, by inanimate objects, I clearly mean singing cardboard boxes. Seriously, though, there was a magical connection between these actors and their puppets. I was continually entranced; when Kate Monster nervously brushed her “hair” aside (Michele Curry, you were hands-down the most fascinating to watch), when Lucy the Slut seemed to pop her nonexistent hip, and Trekkie Monster – thanks for that engrossing mastabatory gesture during “The Internet Is For Porn.” Caught me totally off guard, and that’s show biz. Bravo.

In fact, Trekkie Monster, played by Mitch Thompson – you brought me to Jesus. And by that, I mean I’m not sure I’ve ever really enjoyed a character (or a character’s voice) as much as I did in this show. It was almost religious, which is the only way to describe that feeling where you are so engrossed in what you are watching or listening to that you are completely removed from reality. Also, I’m sure the fabulous Sarah Neely Culp (music director) covered this, but do take care to rehab your gut-busting, comical voice when all this is over. Gut-busting, yes, but more like throat-busting. Mechanically, you have to manipulate your larynx in some really unhealthy ways to do what your character’s voice did. Worth it, though. 

Speaking of voices – I really loved how everyone rocked their speaking/singing styles, no doubt coached by the wonderful Sarah Culp, who is certainly making a name for herself in the mid-MO music theater community. Kyle Kuypers, who played Rod, delivered his singing lines fabulously, as did Taylor Yazel, whose Nicky voice contained the perfect amount of Kermit the Frog. To Rachel Davis, who expertly pulled off the character of Gary Coleman: Aretha Franklin should want to be you. Don’t forget that and keep getting at it, mmkay? In fact, NONE of the things I heard in the show are easy to execute vocally, so PROPS to everyone for sticking with it. I’m going to reiterate for you all what I’m SURE your music director has already tattooed on your forehead: a billion percent diction is still probably going to be just shy of enough. You’re welcome, Sarah.

Speaking of music, a shout out (which my computer just tried to autocorrect to shootout, which would have made me really sad) is in order for the pit, led by the infallible Alex Kirby, who also seems to have carved out his musical theater niche in recent years. I heard some really lovely stuff, and I don’t even mean that facetiously. Enola White and Scott Pummill are apparently dominating the woodwind sections of all the pits in the history of pits. I know for a fact this is at least their third show this year. Way to keep musicing. Your efforts do not go unnoticed.

Although, they almost did, because it seems CEC has caved to the atrocious new trend of banishing the live music to the netherworlds. At least you’re not being piped in from a separate location…yet. I seemed to hear the pit better from the center of the house than I did the first time, when I was perched near the back, stage left, by the lightbox. I’m sure it is a logistic dream come true for the crew and everyone else, but the trained musicians in the audience are shaking their heads and dying a little at at every cutoff, entrance, and vamp that is just slightly off because of the physical distance. It really is a shame.

Despite this, the level of With-It-Ness this production had was really astounding, which has to be because the director, Kate Musgrove, has a mile-long list of credentials, including a PhD in directing…whaaattt?! Columbia grovels at your feet thanks you. I thank you. My past experiences with far-from-amazing directors, like a bad breakup, have left me jaded for anything less than stellar direction. The director makes or breaks it all, really. I know I’m just a someone, but it was seriously gratifying to see this level of professionalism brought to CEC, whose shows can really be a hit or miss. This one was, without a doubt, a hit.

A HIT. Is what you’re going to receive from me if YOU (yes, you) don’t get your tush to the last three runs of this remarkable musical! Your opportunities await. You won’t regret it!

If you missed my last community review on 13! The Musical, do check it out. I eagerly await my next chance to build people up…or rip them to shreds. MUAhahaha.

Until next time.

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