Avenue Q – Review by Tom Nissley

A visit to Playhouse on Park always feels, because it is, like rubbing elbows with a special community of friends and patrons who have developed an inside track to keeping good traditions of theatre alive in their corner of greater Hartford. With a heavy approach towards doing stuff well, they can turn out some very high quality. And they certainly have in their first event of the new season: Lopez and Marx’ “Avenue Q,” beautifully directed by Kyle Brand.

“Avenue Q” is a show that is mostly done with puppets, though like the ‘Sesame Streets’ we used to know, there are full-fledged human actors too, so there’s an interface between puppet characters and other characters. When puppet Princeton (handled by Weston Chandler Long) graduates from college, he moves to New York looking for what to do and where to live. Starting at Avenue A, he keeps searching for what he can afford, finally getting all the way to Avenue Q, where he finds an apartment, of sorts, in a block shared by other folks searching for how to make it… They present their angst in a song fest of complaints: “It sucks to be me.” There’s Brian (James Fairchild), who doesn’t have a job. Puppet Nicky (handled by Peej Mele). Puppet Rod (also by Weston Chandler Long). Puppet Kate Monster (handled by Ashley Brooke). Building Superintendent Gary Coleman (Abena Mensah-Bonsu). And Christmas Eve (EJ Zimmerman) – a social-worker and therapist with no clients. With their common lament, the characters are introduced and the community is formed. And the audience has its first chance to bond with the wonderful puppets and their handlers. It’s the beginning of a magical two hours, that only gets more magical and lovely. This is a super production. Get your tickets now!

So, what are the factors that cooperate to make the production work so well? There’s a great set – designed by Emily Nichols – essentially two adjoining buildings, each with upstairs windows that open to reveal people or puppets as needed, and occasionally a bed or table. Add to that lights by Christopher Bell, plus the live music under Robert James Tomasulo, and a complicated sound system by Joel Abbott that accommodates all the puppets dialogue. Director Kyle Brand choreographed an exceptional flow between puppeteers and live characters that never faltered (with, he says, a few days from puppetry coach Susan Slotoroff). Because of that we get some amazing leaps and bounds and expressions from Weston Chandler Long, Ashley Brooke, Peej Mele, and Colleen Welsh, handling the wonderful Rick Lyon puppets. If this doesn’t capture your heart, fully and completely, you should change your diet immediately.

One more time. This marvelous ensemble production is your opportunity to experience a super presentation of a charming musical play. Its quality quotient is 12 on a scale of 1-10. Tickets and Information at www.playhouseonpark.org, or call 860-523-5900 x10.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre Sept. 20, 2017