Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“Avenue Q” Another Winner for Slow Burn Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre Company continues its winning streak, leading off its fourth season with the bawdy musical comedy with puppets, “Avenue Q.” The show runs through Sunday. Nov. 4 at West Boca Raton High School at the west end of Glades Road.
Uproariously funny, often touching and very clever, this “Avenue Q” is every bit as good as the touring Broadway show I saw at Broward Center a few years back. What makes this all the more amazing is that this is a totally homegrown show, from direction, choreography and cast to large puppets hand-crafted from scratch by Richard Pena. All this was done on a tiny fraction of what a Broadway production costs.
The amazement continues with the cast, which had no previous experience manipulating puppets. The story, created by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, is a kind of young adult version of “Sesame Street” dealing with typical problems that confront the recent college graduate. Looming at the top of the problem heap is sex. Young twenty-somethings are often still in the process of finding their identity, philosophically, professionally and sexually. This is an R-rated show and with good reason. Leave the little kids at home.
Princeton (Mike Westrich) holds a newly-minted bachelor’s degree in English literature. He has no idea how that will help him in real life.
Kate Monster (Nicole Piro) is an upstairs neighbor in the crummy tenement they occupy on Avenue Q. Kate wants to be a teacher, and she is serving as an assistant to a crabby kindergarten teacher. She also has a thing for the new guy, Princeton.
Nicky (Christian Vandepas) is a cheerful, upbeat roommate of Rod (Mike Westrich again), who is experiencing a crisis in his sexual identity. Nicky and Rod are clearly modeled on Bert and Ernie in the PBS children’s show, but their relationship is much more explicit.
Gary Coleman (yeah, the little guy from “Diff’rent Strokes”), is played by a woman (Pamela S. Stigger), who is superintendent of the apartment building.
Christmas Eve is a stereotyped Asian character with exaggerated accent, but she is played by the distinctly non-Asian actress Ann Marie Olson. She wants to be a mental health therapist. Her boyfriend Brian (Trent D. Stephen) is a Fozzie the Bear-style lousy comedian.
Courtney Poston is a versatile utility player who operates one arm of Nicky, plays one of the insidious “Bad Idea Bears” with Christian Vandepas, and several other roles. We are supposed to be watching puppets, but Courtney’s face and smile are so expressive she is a delight to watch as she mirrors the emotions of the puppet she manipulates.
Remember this is an adult show. The Cookie Monster-style character is Trekkie Monster, who is hilariously addicted to Internet Porn. Lucy T. Slut (Nicole Piro again) is a lounge singer who acts just like her name.
The songs are half the fun of “Avenue Q.” The score won one of three major Tony Awards in 2004. The lyrics are about as far away as you can get from the wholesome likes of “Sound of Music,” starting with the introductory theme song, “It Sucks to Be Me.” Greatest hits include “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “Fantasies Come True,” “I Wish I could go Back to College,” “If You Were Gay” and the hilarious cover-up “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada.” The most wistfully romantic tune is “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” which shows the story has heart too. The score is played by a live, onstage but unseen ensemble most effectively.
You better hurry if you want to catch this little delight. Congratulations director Patrick Fitzwater, cast and crew. Thanks for keeping theater alive on a shoestring in Boca Raton.
Tickets are $20 students, $30 seniors and $35 adults. Call 866-811-4111 or go to

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