AJC calls AVENUE Q “a delightful puppet romp!”

June 16th, 2015

Nick Arapoglou and Molly Coyne during a rehearsal of Avenue Q at the Conant Performing Arts Center.

Nick Arapoglou and Molly Coyne during a rehearsal of Avenue Q at the Conant Performing Arts Center.

Theater review: ‘Avenue Q’ remains a delightful puppet romp
By Wendell Brock – For the AJC

Since appearing off-Broadway 12 years ago, “Avenue Q” has expanded and contracted to fit theaters of all sizes around the world.
Atlanta’s Horizon Theatre produced Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty’s naughty little puppet musical in 2011 and 2012 at its home base in Little Five Points. Now, after a weekend-long, PG-13 run at Piedmont Park, Horizon has restored the “Sesame Street” spoof to all its salacious glory at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center.
An “Avenue Q” enthusiast since the beginning, I’m tickled to say that director-choreographer Heidi Cline McKerley’s take on this tale of post-college angst is as fresh and appealing as ever. It remains, if you’ll forgive the pun, fur-ever young.

A zany sendup of racial stereotypes and sexual discovery, “Avenue Q” is a study in couples.

The old notion that opposites attract is borne out in the pairing of bossy, over-educated, Asian immigrant Christmas Eve (Natalie Gray) and her boyfriend, Brian (Andy Meeks), a hopelessly bad Jewish comedian.

Rod (Nick Arapoglou, filling in for injured actor J.C. Long), a nerdy Republican banker, is in denial about his sexuality, so it doesn’t help that he develops a crush on his slacker roommate, Nicky (Jeff McKerley).

And then there’s Princeton (Arapoglou), an English major searching for purpose in life, and Kate Monster (Molly Coyne), a sweet, perky kindergarten teaching assistant who suffers the indignities of being a “person of fur.” Egged on by the squeaky-voiced Bad Idea Bears (Jill Hames and McKerley) and quite a few Long Island iced teas, Princeton and Kate engage in a randy, athletic romp and seem destined for long-term bliss — until Lucy the Slut (Hames) arrives to stir up trouble. Arapoglou and Coyne both sing beautifully, and they make for an ideal Princeton and Kate.

Meanwhile, upstairs in this outer-borough New York tenement, the red-furred Trekkie Monster (McKerley and others) is addicted to Internet porn. And former child star Gary Coleman (Spencer G. Stephens) is the building superintendent and the butt of a whole string of self-inflicted, “What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” riffs.

Coyne, Gray, Hames and McKerley are all terrific. But Arapoglou is extraordinary. Not many actors can craft two characters that are so wholly different, and wholly indelible, but Arapoglou rises to the occasion, evincing a pent-up, nasal-voiced, awfully funny Rod.

As designed by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay (sets), Anna Jenny (costumes) and Russ Walko (puppets), “Avenue Q” looks swell and feels right at home in the Conant.

My one caveat: Some puppeteers are required to provide so many bits, pieces, arms, legs and voices of characters that it can get a little confusing at times.

When this scrappy, highly original little musical beat out “Wicked” for the 2004 best musical Tony Award, it was hard to imagine that it might one day be described as a timeless classic.

But it’s a tribute to the material that the musical has hardly aged at all. (For all the silly shtick, songs like “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” and “When You Ruv Someone” endure as affecting love songs.) And it’s a testament to Horizon that it proves, for the third time around, that it doesn’t suck to be “Avenue Q.”

“Avenue Q”

Grade: A-

Through July 12. 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. $30-$40. (VIP tickets, including a reserved pre-show table, a drink and other perks, are available for an additional $15.) The PG-13 version will be reprised at 3 p.m. June 20, 5 p.m. June 28 and 8 p.m. July 8, and students under 25 are encouraged to take advantage of $20 tickets. Produced by Horizon Theatre at Conant Performing Arts Center, Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-584-7450, tickets.horizontheatre.com.

Bottom line: Puppet musical is still naughty good fun.