Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
through February 21, 2016
By R.E. Smith
By turns hilarious, touching, topical and raunchy, “Avenue Q” has everything one could hope for in a puppet musical, especially if one is hoping for catchy songs and intimate, R-rated, felt-based relationships. The story tracks the lives of the millennial denizens of a street not unlike one called “Sesame,” (complete with educational animations), as they deal with “real life” and their relationships with each other.
Half of the team that wrote the book, music and lyrics, is Robert Lopez, also partly responsible for “The Book of Mormon” and “Frozen,” so expect zippy one-liners set to hummable ditties such as “It Sucks to Be Me, sung by performers operating puppets. It takes some real musical chops to create a humorous tune on the topic of “Schadenfreude” as song by a fictional Gary Coleman.
As broadly humorous as the idea may seem, a lot has to go right for concept to succeed and not seem like amateur hour. Fortunately, the Opera House Players have mastered all the elements, starting first and foremost with the cast. Although speaking through their puppets, one cannot help but split one’s attention between watching the puppet and the actual performer. Whichever one is chosen, both deliver an enjoyable performance.
Kellie Comer, as Kate Monster, never wavers in her commitment to making sure her furry counterpart is always “emoting,” all the while giving a multi-dimensional performance herself. She can deliver a curse word and sing the tender “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” with equal aplomb. Ryan Pipke manages 2 totally different characters, “Trekkie Monster” and “Nicky”, sometimes at the same time. In these cases he is often assisted by Alysa Auriemma, who still gives complete performances even when she is
literally lending an extra hand. Pipke’s vocalizations definitely carry a hint of familiarity that helps underscore the humor in “The Internet is for Porn” and “If You Were Gay.” Auriemma’s solo as “Lucy” in “ Special”, showed that a puppet can be droll and ribald simultaneously. Michelle Ortiz-Saltmarsh and Daniel Viets as the “Bad Idea Bears” were perfect comic foils, cute and cheerfully malevolent. On the wholly human side, and more caricature then the puppets, is “Christmas Eve” given real energy and presence by Sandra W. Lee, especially when she explains the conflicting emotions that occur “When You Ruv Someone.”
“Avenue Q” takes the familiar, turns it sideways, gets your toes tapping, and leaves a smile on your face. Perfect for a February date night at the theater!