By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Here's something that ought to happen more often between theaters on opposite sides of the Trinity: Fort Worth's Stage West has imported the entire cast, and their puppet alter egos, of Theatre Too's hit production of the musical Avenue Q. Back onstage again with their arms up the backsides of puppets Princeton, Rod, Nicky, Kate Monster, Lucy the Slut and Trekkie are actors Matt Purvis, James Chandler, Megan Kelly Bates and Michael Robinson. Also returning in their non-puppet roles are M. Denise Lee as Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman), Chester Maple as aspiring comic Brian and Olivia de Guzman Emile as therapist Christmas Eve.
Directed at Theatre Too (the downstairs space at Theatre Three) and for Stage West by Michael Serrecchia, this Avenue Q ensemble has performed together more than 200 times. DFW actors don't get many chances to be in a long-running show and, besides giving them steady employment (Q opened at Theatre Too in 2012 and played there most of last year), this troupe, great singers all, has pretty much perfected its puppeteering skills. They're so slick at passing the show's 30-plus Muppet-like critters between hands, you won't even notice that suddenly somebody else is holding Kate or Nicky. (All the puppets were created by Dallas Puppet Theater, Pix Smith and Michael Robinson.)
If you saw Avenue Q at tiny Theatre Too, seeing it again on the larger Stage West stage is fun because at last the actors and their felt counterparts have room to move. Jason Domm has designed a dandy two-story set of adjoining building fronts, with multiple doorways and windows above and below. The characters are always popping their fuzzy heads out of this window or that and there's even a sliding drawer that exposes a runway where busty Lucy the Slut does her raunchy club act. Sit audience left if you want a closer look at coitus Puppet Sutra style. (Unless you want a visit from Child Protective Services later, do NOT bring kids to this show.)
The musical is an R-rated homage to Sesame Street, with its puppets teaching and learning life lessons about sharing, loving and finding one's purpose in life. Watch the video screens on the sides of the stage for animated segments that tweak the PBS model with devilish accuracy.
With a book by Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (who followed up his Tony win for Q with a Tony win for Book of Mormon), the show wraps its dirty-sexy-naughty jokes around the sweet notion that everyone who comes out of college with a degree in English feels a little bit lost and that "it sucks to be me." "I can't pay the bills yet, 'cause I have no skills yet," sings leading man-puppet Princeton (played by the adorably cute Purvis). "The world is a big scary place. But somehow I can't shake the feeling I might make a difference to the human raaaaaaace."
It's nice that this Avenue Q, a terrific production in every respect, is worth the road trip to Fort Worth.