Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012

Ex-Children Onstage With Puppets

Greendale Community Theatre’s Staging of AVENUE Q

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s always kind of weird going out to see a show at the Greendale Community Theatre . . . sometimes it’s a bit stranger than others. Their latest is one of those stranger trips to the Greendale High School Auditorium.

It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s Avenue Q. Having seen the touring production roll through town some time ago, I’m familiar with the concept—it’s an adult mutation of Sesame Street complete with fuzzy muppets and animated sequences. Real cute and everything. But kind of stupid. This is not to say that the Greendale Community Theatre’s production wasn’t solid and enjoyable. Once again, director Brian Bzdawka juggles all the elements of a Broadway-style musical on a fraction of the budget. (A budget which still appears to be substantially more impressive than most theatre companies in town, but I digress…)

As good as the production was, for reasons that I’ll get into in the print review that runs in the next Shepherd-Express, The weird end of seeing this particular show has to be the closeness of the actors and the puppets to the audience . . . in the touring Broadway show, the audience is so distant from it all that there isn’t much subtlety in the puppetry. With much of the audience within a very, very short distance from the action on the stage, cast, crew and puppets were able to work subtle characterization into their performances in a way that felt remarkably sophisticated for a show which is essentially a gimmicky musical modeled after an adult mutation of Sesame Street.

And with the puppets being handled as well as they were and what with all of the  rest of the elements of production being handled as well as they were, it made me want to see something far more thematically complex than what Lopez and Marx did with Avenue Q.  As strange and subtly disturbing as Avenue Q is capable of being in places, it was nowhere near as edgy as Wonder Showzen—the adult TV show from half a decade ago that was based around a children’s TV show format. Avenue Q is a feel good musical adult mutation of children’s TV fare. Wonder Showzen bends it completely into something that, at its best a scintillatingly sinister look into how we relate to children on a variety of different levels. I envision an Avenue Q that starts off like a traditional children’s show and gradually mutates into something more like Wonder Showzen as it moves from beginning to end . . . sort of a show that comes of age and becomes dark in the process . . . and there would be a way to do that without making it entirely dark . . . as growing-up means discovering beauty in the darkness of a more complex picture of life.  On some level, Avenue Q is trying to reach adults through the children they used to be and it works, but only on a superficial level. Had it been just a little more savvy about how it executed that, it could’ve been brilliant . . . but as it stands, it is hard to deny that it’s a fun show. Greendale Community Theatre brings out that fun in a very, very big way for reasons that I’ll get into in the print review.

Greendale Community Theatre’s production of Avenue Q runs through January 14th at the Greendale High School Auditorium. All shows start at 7:30 pm.

 


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