Monday, April 20, 2015

review - AVENUE Q - Mesa Encore Theatre

Ryan Malikowski, Chelsea Umeda, Andrew Lipman, Laura Terry,
Anne-Lise Koyabe, Nathan Spector, Katharine Boelter and
Michael Shuey
(photo: Sarah Rodgers)
for more information on this production, that runs through April 26th, click here

"The Tony winning hit musical Avenue Q uses a combination of human actors and Muppet-like puppets to focus on a group of young adults, all of whom are searching for their "purpose" in life. Mesa Encore Theatre is fortunate to have hired All Puppet Players' Artistic Director Shaun Michael McNamara to direct this production. The combination of his skilled direction and the exceptional cast makes this production a humorous and charming winner.  Director McNamara has assembled a cast who not only excel in the required puppetry skills but also have exceptional voices and comic abilities. Heading up the cast are Laura Terry and Ryan Malikowski as Kate Monster and Princeton. They both have clear and strong vocals, adding a nice resonance to their songs, and Terry has an expressive face that brings a tight connection between herself and her puppet character, the warm-hearted teaching assistant Kate Monster. Malikowski's singing voice is exceptional and clear as a bell. As Rod, the uptight, in the closet, but very gay Republican, Nathan Spector brings a big dose of charm and a unique, comical voice to the buttoned up, deeply closeted and completely in denial character that allow the many times he overreacts to go from calm and sane to out and out frantic craziness but to never be too over the top.  While the previous two puppet plays I've seen of McNamara's were spoofs of famous books and films, with plenty of ad-libbing, I have to say I am very impressed by his directorial skills. Not only does he keep his cast in line, with only a couple of small ad-libs that are perfectly in character, but he also brings out rich performances from each of them that balance the humorous and serious moments of the show. MET couldn't have found a better director for this show.  With a combination of human actors and puppets and songs covering a range of topics from racism to sexuality as well as heart-felt ones about finding one's purpose, Lopez, Marx and Whitty have truly created an adult version of "Sesame Street" that lovingly mocks and portrays what a grown up version of that show would be like. But while the show has many laugh out loud, and very R-rated moments, it is also full of heart and identifiable characters and situations. Mesa Encore Theatre's production of the show has a talented cast, a gifted director and simple yet effective creative elements. It is fun, touching and heartfelt which is everything a production of Avenue Q needs to be." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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