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‘Avenue Q’ shines with witty humor and universal themes

Content Editor

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

Avenue Q

Courtesy Photo

Each year the UNH Department of Theater and Dance puts on a show, there are a certain number of difficulties that must be overcome in order for the show to be put on. First, the actors must be cast, the set must be built, lines and music must be learned, and eventually, everything must come together to produce the show. However, this year, with the show “Avenue Q,” the department added a new challenge: the inclusion of puppets.

Even with the challenges and difficulties presented against it, UNH’s production of “Avenue Q” absolutely shone in its barely weeklong run in the Johnson Theatre at the Paul Creative Arts Center.

The show is, first and foremost, incredibly hilarious and delightfully inappropriate. The show plays on its audience’s memories and perceptions of the popular children’s show, “Sesame Street,” taking common characters and situations and elevating them to an “R-rated” level. Following a recent college graduate named Princeton, the show tells the story of post-grad life, its challenges, and finding one’s purpose in a very difficult world.

“Avenue Q” does its best at combining the inappropriate with the emotional, with story lines that range from the ridiculous to the heart-warming. While the audience got a kick out of such silly songs as “The Internet is for Porn” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” the show manages to maintain its serious themes and plot lines. The emotional “There’s A Fine, Fine Line” brought tears to audience members’ eyes, and the tender “Fantasies Come True” was a turning point in the show.

The cast of the show was incredibly strong, and each cast member seemed to improve more and more as the show went along. Katie Jordan, who played Kate Monster, exceptionally shone. She perfectly portrayed her hopeless-romantic character, and managed to move seamlessly between her comedic and serious songs. Another lead, Ben Arsenault (Princeton), was equally impressive, with his interpretation of the ambitious song “Purpose,” and continued to stir the audience throughout the show with his chemistry with Jordan and the way he made his character relatable to the college-aged crowd.

Sara LaFlamme (Christmas Eve) and Tricia Whitlock (Gary Coleman) impressed the crowd with their renditions of “The More You Ruv Someone” and “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love),” respectively.

The best moments for the cast, however, were when they were singing together. Johnson Theater is not known for its acoustics, and the group numbers “There is Life Outside Your Apartment,” “I Wish I Could Go Back To College,” and “For Now” were particularly impressive, the harmonies strong.

Throughout the show, it was clear that there were plenty of difficulties and hurdles that had to be overcome in terms of the actors working with the puppets. Actors had to learn how to match the puppets’ action to their own; the human actors had to interact with the puppets onstage; and actors had to surrender their own personalities to let the character shine through the puppet instead of themselves.

The latter was a task easier said than done. While with many characters, it was easy to suspend your disbelief in order to focus solely on the puppet character, it was more difficult to do with the lead characters. Perhaps it was just the difference in stage time, but I found myself focusing on the faces of the operators of Kate Monster and Princeton, as their vibrant facial expressions made it hard to watch the puppet.

It was easier, however, to focus just on the puppet for the two-person-operated puppets of Trekkie Monster and Rod, as the dexterity and timing needed to operate such a puppet was so impressive that it felt like it was doing a disservice to the operators to focus on them.

The set and props were also vital to the overall comedic mood, combined with the “Sesame Street”-nostalgia present throughout the duration of the show. A television taught the audience corrupted lessons typically seen in the children’s show, such as pictures of five night stands, that dwindled to “one night stand,” describing Princeton’s one night relationship with the character Lucy the Slut.

The audience was particularly delighted with a collection of puppets made out of boxes that had mouths moved by sticks that sang backup to Arsenault’s song, “Purpose.” The puppets were simple, but clever, and caused a cry of glee from the audience.

Overall, “Avenue Q” made for an absolutely enjoyable evening at the theatre with its witty songs, quirky characters, real-life themes, and the ability to make you laugh despite your better judgment.

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