Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Indeed, the joys from this production are plentiful and I even got a feeling of nostalgia, remembering seeing the musical for the first time. This production should be a pleasure for audiences who are seeing the show for the first time, as well as for those who have seen it before. Playhouse on Park's production is pretty great and almost guaranteed to send you out with a big smile on your face.
One of the biggest assets of Avenue Q is its score, which is wonderfully performed by this company of actors and the terrific offstage band led by expert music director Robert James Tomasulo. And, while it can often feel like an ensemble show, the two leads are really the actor/puppeteers who portray the characters of Princeton and Kate Monster. As it turns out, Playhouse on Park is blessed to have two actors who do full justice to these roles.
Weston Chandler Long makes for a great Princeton (and he also does well playing the character of Rod) and it is a treat to see the craft involved in performing both as an actor and as a puppeteer. He especially shines in "What Do You Do with a B. A. in English?" and, as Rod, in "Fantasies Come True." It is noted in the program that Long has performed with John Tartaglia, who originated these two roles, and that experience has certainly paid off handsomely.
As Kate Monster, Ashley Brooke is similarly excellent and she can be both funny and quite touching, particularly in my favorite song from the show, "There's a Fine, Fine Line," which closes the first act. Brooke was grand in Playhouse on Park's recent production of [title of show], but she is even better here and, like her costar Long, she portrays a second character, Lucy T. Slut, winning big laughs as this Mae West-like character.
As Nicky and Trekkie Monster, Peej Mele (who also shone in Playhouse on Park's [title of show]) is a delight and a chameleon, effortlessly switching between the two characters. In the non-puppet parts, EJ Zimmerman is a hilarious Christmas Eve and nearly steals the show in the second act number, "The More You Ruv Someone." Also scoring highly is Abena Mensah-Bonsu as the superintendent Gary Coleman, and James Fairchild has fun as Christmas Eve's husband Brian. Not to be left out, Colleen Welsh is a fantastic puppeteer and performer, portraying various small parts.
The look of this Avenue Q is just about ideal, with an appropriate brownstone building set, designed by Emily Nichols, which is enhanced by Christopher Bell's superb lighting, and Kate Bunce has come up with the perfect costumes for everyone. Credit must also go to Rick Lyons, who conceived the puppets, and video designers Zach Rosing and Ben Phillippe, who do extremely well with the two video screens on either side of the stage.
Of course, none of this would be possible or work so well without the excellent job of director/choreographer Kyle Brand, who keeps the show happily spinning from one musical number to another. If I have one quibble, it is that, although the theater has a thrust stage with the audience on three sides, it sometimes feels like the show is directed too much to the center section (which is where I sat for the show).
Still, this is a relatively minor problem, with a production that otherwise comes up all aces. It almost goes without saying that Avenue Q, because of its explicit language, is geared more toward teenagers or older. The lucky audience members who attend this production at Playhouse on Park should find that this staging is a winner.
Avenue Q continues performances at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through October 8, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.