By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What do you do with a B.A. in English? Learn to make lattes? Live with your folks? Or buckle down and create something fresh, funny and smart like Avenue Q?
If you have it in you, do it. If you're still in college and think you might have it in you later, screw English and switch majors to musical theater. Look where it took this show's book writer, Jeff Whitty, and composer-lyricists Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who made their Broadway debuts with Avenue Q. They rode their R-rated, Sesame Street-inspired concept all the way to the top, winning three Tony awards. Lopez went on to write the Tony-winning score for The Book of Mormon, too.
Avenue Q is their mildly dirty but wildly funny half-puppet/half-human show making its local debut at Theatre Too, the 80-seat space below Theatre Three. Watch out, blue hairs; these puppets cuss, fuck and sing about eating pussy and how "the Internet is for porn." For a theater where many loyal patrons still fondly recall saucy banter between Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy — a puppet act performed on radio, mind you — this is cultural heresy. Finally!
Through July 29 at Theatre Too in The Quadrangle. Call 214-871-3300.
Bomb-itty of Errors
Through July 22 at Second Thought Theatre at Kalita Humphreys Theater. Call 866-811-4111.
What the Butler Saw
Through August 5 at Stage West, Fort Worth. Call 817-784-9378.
It's also an opportunity to get a younger audience in to see some dishy new talent. Princeton, the leading puppet-man in the show, is animated by the hand and voice of Dallas theater newcomer Matt Purvis. What a doll he is, with or without the one on the end of his arm. Princeton starts the show with his "wish song" (most musicals have one) that sets up his quest to find his place in the world:
"What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.
I can't pay the bills yet
'Cause I have no skills yet.
The world is a big scary place.
But somehow I can't shake
The feeling I might make
To the human race."
Sigh. At its big fuzzy heart, Avenue Q is a really sweet little story about how life is better when you're nice to people (cue the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist"), though it does feel good sometimes to witness failure ("Schadenfreude"). And even when "It Sucks to Be Me," the reality is that everything, including "your hair" and Fox News, is only "For Now," not always.
Sesame Street episodes are about learning to navigate the world as a small child. Avenue Q takes the POV of not-quite-grown-up 22-year-olds struggling to live on their own, make romantic connections and find their "purpose." Princeton meets cute neighbor and "person of fur" Kate Monster (Megan Kelly Bates, back on the stage after a two-year absence). She's a feisty chick who dreams of opening a school for little monsters.
Princeton falls for Kate but also gets drunk and felt up by hot stripper-puppet Lucy (Bates again, singing in two different voices). Their other friends on the block include a hacky stand-up comic named Brian (non-puppet Chester Maple), his therapist-wife Chrismas Eve (Olivia de Guzman Emile), possibly gay puppet roommates Rod (Purvis) and Nikki (James Chandler, doing a perfect Muppet Ernie voice), porn-loving Trekkie Monster (Michael Robinson) and sitcom-kid-turned-building-super Gary Coleman (M. Denise Lee, in an inspired bit of casting).
The Broadway tour of Avenue Q saw it spread across the big stage at the Winspear Opera House, but the show proves to be a comfy fit in itty-bitty Theatre Too, where the in-your-face jokes about sex and racism now actually are right at the end of your nose. Director-choreographer Michael Serrecchia might have had his cast hone their puppeteering skills more — watch the terrific documentary Being Elmo to see how Sesame Street's Kevin Clash makes his puppets act "alive" — but their strong singing and comedic timing make up for it. (The 36 puppets used in this Avenue Q were designed and built by Pix Smith and Michael Robinson.)
Nice to see Theatre Three founder Jac Alder taking more chances with show choices here. He just had the polit-rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on the upstairs stage. Local live theater needs to keep blowing off the fust and dust. And not only for now.
Second Thought Theatre at Bryant Hall (next to Kalita Humphreys Theater) winds up its eighth season with a deadly combination of elements: a small, hot space; "updated" Shakespeare; and white guys doing hip-hop. It's Bomb-itty of Errors, an overwrought rewrite of The Comedy of Errors, the Bard's farce about two sets of identical twins — two masters, two servants — who keep tripping into each other's lives.
Zac Kelty, on loan from Australia's Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble, bares his jelly-belly as Dromio of Ephesus; Joseph Holt is his master, Antipholus. Drew Wall and Dallas Theater Center actor Steven Walters, who co-wrote the original score with Heath Gage, play the boys from Syracuse, also called Dromio and Antipholus. Amy Corcoran directed. The script and concept are by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, GQ and Erik Weiner.
The four men tumble in and out of all the roles, male and female, with Holt at his best clowning under a Minaj-pink wig as one of the wives. Pacing the 80-minute show at a breathless gallop exhausts actors and audience so that it too quickly becomes a blur of sweaty bods bobbing to the same repetitive dobbity-dobbity beat as the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Crude bathroom references — "I've got a wicked fudge monkey in the on-deck circle" — abound. The whole endeavor reeks of attempts to comment on political correctness by going overboard with offensive quips. But it all comes off as overtly, wincingly racist; four white guys taking digs at Jews, Puerto Ricans and Rastafarians.
There are way wiser ways than this to spoof old Wizzle the Shakespizzle.
Long-lost twins also are a plot twist in Joe Orton's 1967 farce What the Butler Saw. There's no butler in the play, directed by Jim Covault at Fort Worth's Stage West. There are: five people who strip to their underwear; one character (played by Dana Schultes) required to scream like a stuck pig every time she sees a nearly naked man; two men (Garret Storms, Dwight Greene) who put on women's clothes; a character (played by Stage West founder Jerry Russell) who looks like the old man in the movie Up; and a bronze replica of Winston Churchill's penis.
Orton's play, done right, is a brilliant and wicked send-up of dumb British sex farces, psychiatry and 1960s politics. As with Noises Off, it's only funny if its entrances, exits, dropped pants, screams, ass-grabs and slamming doors are timed to the red-hot second.
At Stage West, the production, like Churchill's penis, is unable to rise to the occasion.