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Avenue Q (Review)

The best address in Dayton is Avenue Q

By Rick Pender · June 24th, 2013 · Onstage
avenue q @ human race theatre company - james oblak as princeton, and annie kalahurka and andrew ian adams as the bad idea bears - photo scott j. kimmins James Oblak as Princeton, and Annie Kalahurka and Andrew Ian Adams as the Bad Idea Bears. - Photo: Scott J. Kimmins
Last Friday I was in Dayton for another reason and decided to get a ticket to see the Human Race Theatre Company's production of Avenue Q, the very funny — and rated X — musical spin-off of Sesame Street. Well, kind of: It has the "sunny atmosphere" of that long-popular kids series on PBS, full of good will and optimism, but it's about young adults whose lives haven't really taken off. They're unemployed, lonely, adrift — one of the first songs they sing is "It Sucks to Be Me," a kind of one-upsmanship of whose life is worst. 

Much of Avenue Q's humor derives from the use of puppets very much like those you will remember from Sesame Street. But here they're gay, racist (another song is "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist") and slutty. In fact, one of them is "Lucy the Slut." Several are monsters, in the vein of Oscar or Elmo or the Cookie Monster, but here the "Monsters" are stand-ins for as second-class citizens. 

Their stories are played out with chipper good will in this Dayton production by a talented cast of eight, staged and choreographed by Joe Deer, who is a professor of theater at Wright State University.

Five of the eight performers handle multiple roles that are personified by puppets. Each of them does a great job, but especially good performances come from Katie Pees, who doubles as wholesome Kate Monster and sleazy Lucy the Slut, James Oblak as good-guy Princeton (who's looking for his "purpose") and Rod, a Republican accountant who has a hard time admitting he's gay. Brett Travis, with a mop of golden ringlets, performs as both Nicky, Rod's doofus roommate, and Internet porn enthusiast Trekkie Monster; his song  "The Internet Is for Porn" is a hilarious highlight. 

Working even harder are Andrew Ian Adams and Cincinnati puppeteer Annie Kalahurka, who partner with the others when multiple hands are called for. Kalahurka gives Lucy a sassy presence when Pees is busy with Kate (even though Pees continues to voice both roles). Adams and Kalahurka also get to do their own thing. She is a nasty kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Thistletwat, and they pair up as the "Bad Idea Bears," who inspire others to do stupid things. 

Rounding out the cast are Michael Thomas Walker as Brian, an aspiring comedian; Michelle Liu Coughlin as Christmas Eve, Brian's Japanese girlfriend; and Shawn Storms as Gary Coleman. (Yes, the late star of Diff'rent Strokes is a character. Avenue Q was a Tony Award winner in 2004, six years before Coleman's death. The role is a caricature, but it is a little weird given the circumstances.)

The production was originally scheduled to close on June 23, but it's been extended to June 29. It's definitely worth seeing: I'd say that Avenue Q might be the best address in Dayton for at least one more week. Tickets: 937-228-3630



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