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Adirondack Delight

by James Yeara on August 1, 2013

Avenue Q
Book by Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, based an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, directed by Jennifer Barnhart, Adirondack Theatre Festival, Charles R. Wood Theater, through Aug. 3


Avenue Q is a musical triumph: a feel-good, laugh-out-loud, surreal hallucination. See it. It’s still playing off-Broadway in Manhattan, where it played on Broadway for six years after starting as an off-Broadway hipster affair. It’s had two national U.S. tours and played in England’s West End for four years, and after several European, North American, and Australian tours, it’s currently touring South Korea. It even played in a Las Vegas casino for a year before it was closed for being too trashy and raunchy.

I made the “too trashy and raunchy” part up; Vegas doesn’t know the meaning of the word “too,” and Avenue Q plays smartly with trash and raunch. It’s a multiple Tony Award winner, Grammy Award winner, Drama Desk winner, and Laurence Olivier Award winner; when the movie version is made, it’s got its Oscar already in the can.

I made the movie part up, too, but Avenue Q has serious comedy and musical bona fides. If you can’t get to Manhattan or Seoul, you need to get to Glens Falls quickly to see this musical that will amaze you with its songs, its soul, its humor, and its acting.

I did not make the acting part up; Avenue Q at Adirondack Theatre Festival is the best acted and directed production that I’ve seen this summer, and I have seen a lot of great theater this summer. ATF’s production is directed by Avenue Q original cast member Jennifer Barnhart, who was also a puppeteer on Sesame Street, and she directs with a sure hand, a smart touch, and sense of pace and flash that serves her smartly cast actors—Noah Zachary, Stacia Newcomb, Rob Morrison, Stephen DiBlasi, Joanne Javien, Shinnerrie Jackson, and Heather Brorsen (who played in the Broadway Avenue Q)—and the audience well.

As a riff on Sesame Street, Avenue Q is a must-see for comedy fans. If you can imagine South Park’s fourth-graders as grown-up college graduates (by way of the Muppets) singing songs that, as with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s oeuvre, owe a debt to Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight,” you’ll love Avenue Q. Its diabetic sweet songs will bite not only into your funny bones, but your souls. There’s something that allows puppets to sing things others wouldn’t dare and audiences would find intolerable. From “What Do You Do With A B.A. in English/It Sucks to Be Me” to “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” through “The Internet Is for Porn,” “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love),” and “My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada,” climaxing with “Schadenfreude,” Avenue Q will wrap you in slightly sugary sarcasm and satire of the Age of Entitlement.

What makes ATF’s Q a must-see is the actual space. The all-Equity cast under Barthart’s knowledgeable direction brings a focus that keeps the colorful and diverse cast of characters distinct and lively; watch how the human actors and the puppets mirror each other, especially “second hander” Heather Brorsen, whose Bad Idea Bear is a burst of cotton candy wrapped menace. But all this stellar quality happens because Avenue Q was created for the intimacy of an off-Broadway-size theater. ATF’s set, three run-down original 1969 Sesame Street-cred row houses, frame Avenue Q well, bringing the action to the audience that larger venues would swallow. A magic melding of actor and puppet occurs that would be lost in a larger venue with a less capable cast; the puppets here are a means to a psyche played out through the actors’ physicality. If you want to see Avenue Q sung and acted by talented professionals, with puppets created by Avenue Q’s original puppet master, well directed by a director who’s intimate with the material, ATF is the place you want to be. You can even get your photo taken with your favorite Avenue Q puppet after the show. (I’m not making that part up, either; photo proceeds go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.)

Don’t delay: One last show has been added to the sold-out run on Saturday (Aug. 3) at 2 PM.