Monday, October 29, 2012

Slow Burn Theatre: Avenue Q (2 reviews)

Slow Burn Theatre opened its production of Avenue Q on October 26, 2012.
Winner of the Tony “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, AVENUE Q is part flesh, part felt and packed with heart. AVENUE Q is a laugh-out-loud musical that tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that although the residents seem nice, it’s clear that this is not your ordinary neighborhood. Together, Princeton and his new-found friends struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life.
Patrick Fitzwater directed a cast that included Mike Westrich, Nicole Piro, Christian Vandepas, Courtney Poston, Pamela Stigger, Ann Marie Olson, and Trent Stephens.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Once again, the little theater with a below-modest budget and full-scale ambitions has simply nailed another production, this time delivering a raunchy, irreverent and joyous opener to their fourth season in way west Boca Raton.
Fitzwater is not a look-at-me director, but he always keeps his actors fluidly in motion and helps his cast find the emotional truth under the laughs. And while Avenue Q is meant to make fun of the artifice of puppetry by having the puppeteers visible, Fitzwater and Lighting Designer Lance Blank still pull off a bit of magician’s misdirection from time to time to conceal when an actor slips offstage to get another puppet or when one actor is voicing a puppet being manipulated across the stage by another actor.
The actors’ tirelessly expressive faces and body language combine with the puppets’ tilt of the head or ingenious arm movements choreographed as carefully as the human’s dance steps.
Led by the enthusiastic Fitzwater and co-founder Matthew Korinko, the troupe has a can-do dare-anything DIY attitude that is infectious even when some aspects of a show stumble a bit. Producers ought to be attending every opening night looking for talent to poach.
While it’s almost criminal to single out anyone in an ensemble this uniformly strong, it’s impossible to avoid praising Westrich and Piro’s singing chops, animated facial expressions and ability to make the puppets come alive. Piro often has to have arguments with herself, voicing both Kaye and Lucy with Poston actually operating one of the ladies at the other end of the stage. Westrich’s body language subtly switches from the angst-ridden Princeton to the slightly fey Rod.
A nod is due once again to Slow Burn’s loyal creative team who do wonders with so little money: Scenic Designer Ian T. Almeida, Lighting Designer Blank (who still needs a couple of lights downstage center) and Sound Designer Traci Almeida who has finally conquered the high school auditorium’s aural problems.
... puppetmaster Peña, a Slow Burn actor who usually doubles as the costumer ...based most of his designs on the original Broadway creatures created by Rick Lyon, although Peña has created his own take on Rod and Princeton.  His whimsical yet inexplicably human-seeming creations are absolutely the equal of anything the Henson shop has produced.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The company performs way out west of Boca Raton in the high-school based West Boca Performing Arts Theater. Its shows don’t run very long, usually just six performances spread out over two weekends. But as its new production of Avenue Q so vibrantly demonstrates, seeking out Slow Burn is so worth the effort.
Mike Westrich is equally persuasive as the earnest, commitment-phobic leading “man” Princeton and the conflicted, clearly gay Rod. Nicole Piro voices the looking-for-love Kate Monster and bad-girl Lucy, with different body language and facial expressions for each character. Christian Vandepas, who usually performs alongside a glowing Courtney Poston, fashions a gee-whiz voice for Nicky and a lascivious growl for Trekkie Monster.

Trent Stephens is an ebullient presence as Brian, the wannabe comedian. Pamela Stigger plays the late Diff’rent Strokes star (Gary Colemnan), and though some of her solos wander slightly off pitch, she finds Coleman’s boyish charm. You could make the case that the role of Christmas Eve, which involves playing on Asian stereotypes including pronunciation, should always go to an Asian-American actress. Slow Burn’s choice, Ann Marie Olson, isn’t Asian, but she is funny and fabulous. When she takes the song The More You Ruv Someone to its torchy extreme, she stops the show.
Want to see the future of musical theater in South Florida, both on the stage and in the enthusiastic teens-and-up audience? Make the effort to find and savor Avenue Q.
The Slow Burn Theatre production of Avenue Q plays at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater through November 4.

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