Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Avenue Q
Blank Canvas Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's reviews of Chicago and Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant: A Snowball's Chance


The Cast of Avenue Q
Photo by Andy Dudik
Ask anyone who knows theater—the hardest part in putting any production together is the casting. There is an indefinable chemistry that has to be present in order for a show to jell. In the case of the Blank Canvas Theatre production of Avenue Q, director Patrick Ciamacco has nailed it. He has assembled a cast of young and very gifted actors/puppeteers who bring the show to life.

Avenue Q was conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music and lyrics) and has a book by Jeff Whitty. It combines live actors and the use of puppets that are animated by unconcealed puppeteers. The musical began in 2002 as a television series idea after which it was developed as a stage production at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. It opened Off-Broadway in March of 2003, then moved to Broadway in July of 2003, running more than 2,500 performances and winning three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. There have been two national tours, a variety of international productions, and it has been very popular with local theater groups (there is a school edition as well). In 2009, the show returned to an Off-Broadway theater, where it continues to run today. Avenue Q is a show that encourages people to follow their dreams no matter what the obstacles they encounter.

Princeton (Shane Patrick O’Neal) arrives on Avenue Q with a BA in English and a desire to find his purpose in life. He has worked his way through the alphabet of streets (A, B, C...) until he found an apartment he could afford. He is taken in by Gary Coleman (Neda Spears), his landlord. Soon Princeton meets Kate Monster (Leah Smith), Rod (Scott Esposito), Nicky (Trey Gilpin), Brian (Luke Scattergood) and his girl friend Christmas Eve (Anna Sylvester), Trekkie Monster (Brett DiCello), Lucy (Kate Gucik), and the Bad Idea Bears (David Turner and Becca Ciamacco).

Princeton and Kate Monster, a kindergarten substitute, become an item after he gives her a mix tape; Rod, a banker and staunch Republican, and Nicky, Rod’s roommate, have trouble committing to each other; Brian, an aspiring comedian, and Christmas Eve, a Japanese therapist with no clients, become engaged in spite of Brian being out of work; and Trekkie Monster scours the internet for porn but has other secrets as well. The Bad Idea Bears seem to get everyone in trouble, and the residents of Avenue Q wonder whose life sucks the most. They finally agree that Princeton is the worst of the lot.

As mentioned earlier, the entire cast is terrific. This is an amazing production considering the tiny space that Blank Canvas has to work in. The vocal harmonies are wonderful and after awhile you begin to ignore the puppeteers and focus just on the puppets, who come alive. Special mention goes to Shane Patrick O’Neill as Princeton, Leah Smith as Kate Monster, and Brett DiCello as Trekkie Monster—but, truly, everyone deserves special mention. The harmonies are spot-on under the backing of a great band (Matt Dolan, keyboard 1/conductor; Robin Davis, keyboard 2; Zach Davis, guitar; Keith Turner, reeds; Jason Stebelton, bass; and Pat Boland, drums). Jeff Lockshine’s lighting is superb and the sound design by Anthony Newman is crisp.

Need a break from all the holiday pressures? Pack up your problems and take them to Avenue Q for a raucous evening of adult humor and potty-mouthed puppets. It is hands on terrific. This fast-moving two and a quarter hour show will reset your reality meter in a thoughtful yet humorous way.

Avenue Q, through December 22, 2018, at Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studios, Suite 211, 1305 W. 78th Street, Cleveland OH. The show is sold out except for two added performances on December 16h at 3:30 p.m. and December 19th at 8 p.m. Tickets can only be purchased online (no phone sales) at www.blankcanvastheatre.com, so hurry to order.


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