I recently went to the Woodlawn Theater’s performance of the acclaimed Broadway musical Avenue Q and was pleasantly surprised with how well the show was put on in such a space. I personally love the Broadway performance and was very afraid to be disappointed in a non-Broadway attempt of such a huge production. My friends and I spent the entire time laughing and enjoying ourselves, singing in our chairs and occasionally averting our eyes when things got a little steamy, despite it being in the end, puppets.
I was impressed with how similar many of the actors looked to their puppet counterparts and seemed to simply use the puppets as an extension of themselves and not really as their own separate creatures. I wondered if it was intentional how similar the actors looked to their puppet co-stars. The acting between puppet actors and human actors was perfect. Eye contact was great not just with the other actors but with the audience. The characterization was spot on and the characters were very relatable.
Now, I admit there were a few flubs in the singing especially by the part of Rod whose part of the soundtrack I learned very extensively. A few mess ups during key songs and lines that vanished somehow and though I expected this with the transition from Broadway to the small stage but these were pretty key mistakes that not only were caught by me but by my friends even one that had a non-theater background. But the actor did recover well from the mistake.
There was a great use of multimedia in the form of two televisions on either side of the stage and were the same media images and such used in the original Broadway performance and served as a functional piece for the audience and also a launching point for the actors and the actors would interact with the screens reading off of them at times.
The sound system was sensitive and had a few problems with feedback throughout the production which was later blamed on cell phone usage. But the issues with the loud cracking noises did not affect the actors at all but it was a bit annoying to hear in the audience. The microphones were great and the songs could be heard well, I had no issue hearing the characters or any of the songs.
The costume design was very realistic not just on the puppets but on the human actors, the clothing was set pretty modern, jeans t-shirts, skirts and dresses that easily seemed to be purchased at any one of the name brand stores of the day. I was impressed how easily the actors were able to bring personality to the puppets and how natural that movement was.
The lighting was bright and there were flashing bulbs on the side, similar to a large Broadway performance that flashed and blinked during some of the musical numbers of to illustrate high or low points. Also the lighting was very dynamic, lots of different colors used and several filters used which added brightness to the set but the flashing bulbs on the side did seem a little excessive at times since the theater is so dark it seemed very bright and a tad unnecessary.
The set design was the functional apartment building and that served as the main backdrop and other functional pieces would be moved onto the set to provide differentiation for other scenes for instance beds would be rolled out, or a giant version of Kate Monster draped over the building or it becoming the Empire State Building.
The audience was very tuned in to the performance not a lot of fidgeting at all, it was a very engaging show and interactive with the characters often breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience and some lines were changed to make it relevant to the audience and the current social climate including mentioning Rick Perry in their final song “For Now”. This adaptation got a pretty big response out of the audience and was very funny to me and my friends.
I love Avenue Q and think the Woodlawn Theater did a wonderful rendition of the performance I believe the direction’s intention and vision was met and it was nearly impossible not to laugh during this show. It is by no means for children and the concern of how to make a show with puppets more adult did arise in my mind for a moment but any trepidation was quickly dispelled. But the show was witty, funny and contemporary. Overall a hilarious experience well worth the wait and the cost. We sang the soundtrack the entire way home and plan to see it again since it has been extended one more week at the Woodlawn.