by Robert Bell
The singing, dancing, foul-mouthed, sex-having puppets of “Avenue Q” (and their human counterparts) put on a fun, sweet and funny show in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of the smash-hit musical.
At the center of “Avenue Q” are Princeton, a recent English grad, and Kate Monster, a kindergarten teaching assistant. Both are trying to find their way in the world of post-collegiate life, and are abetted by a menagerie of monsters, puppets, slackers and, of course, Gary Coleman.
The whole cast was incredibly solid, with great singing and some very impressive puppet work. Will Holly, who played Princeton and Rod, was particularly adept at making his puppets come alive with animated, inspired movement. He deftly switched between voice characterizations for the uptight closeted Republican and the wide-eyed young college grad who’s trying to find his purpose in life. Kathleen Choe, who plays social worker Christmas Eve, is a fantastic singer and was hilarious as the nagging moral compass of the show. Really, there’s not a weak link in this entire cast.
The choreography was also impressive, especially considering that at any time, several of the actors have not one but two puppets on their hands, or two of them are operating the same puppet. That it all came off so effortlessly is a testament to the hard work the cast put in preparing for this show.
“Avenue Q” is filled with memorable tunes — it didn’t win three Tony Awards for nothing, after all. These will be stuck in your head for a while, so hopefully you’ll like them. There were a few regional references worked into the script (Whole Hog Cafe and Pine Bluff, for example). That kind of thing can easily come off as corny, but in this case they all were legitimately funny.
The audience Wednesday night was, by this reviewer’s eyeball estimate, about 70 percent close to or north of 70 years of age. For anyone remotely familiar with the musical that might sound like a recipe for, if not disaster, at least a couple of walk-outs, especially here in the Bible Belt. But the somewhat risqué material caused no seats to be emptied. In fact, the mostly older crowd erupted loudly and often, frequently repeating particularly funny lines back to their friends and spouses. At the end of “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” a man behind me said to his wife, “It’s true!” So there’s that. On the other hand, “The Internet is for Porn” seemed slightly lost on much of the crowd. Perhaps their connection speeds need to be upgraded.
A couple of the naughty parts did fall flat, particularly one line delivered by Rod at the end of his song “Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada.” It’s super awkward — purposefully so, to illustrate how ridiculously uptight and closeted he is. But still, one woman in the row behind me did not look pleased.
However, for all but the wettest of wet blankets, The Rep’s “Avenue Q” is a sure bet for a fun night out. Check out a trailer for the show, after the jump.
“Avenue Q” runs through June 30, with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25-$50.