“Avenue Q” Breaks Musical Theater Boundaries

The Shepherd University Department of Music production of Avenue Q really pushes the envelope as the musical delivered a unique, no holds barred performance.

Avenue Q opened on Feb. 7 and is directed by Dr. Robert Tudor and musically directed by Barbara Irvine.

The musical offers a humorous yet somewhat realistic view into life after college. Some characters include a college graduate, a teacher’s assistant who wants to open her own school, and a celebrity that is a blast from the past. But there is twist: two of these three characters are puppets.

Yes, that’s right. Puppets. The majority of these characters are puppets while two or three are actually human characters.

The puppets are operated by student actors and some puppets may be reminiscent of “The Muppets” or puppets from “Sesame Street.”

In fact, Nick Etheridge, who plays Trekkie Monster, perhaps found inspiration from one of these shows as his voice shares an uncanny resemblance to Cookie Monster from “Sesame Street” or Ross Tamaccio, as Nicky, whose voice is similar to Kermit the Frog from “The Muppets.”

All the actors deserve applause because the musical showcases their vocal talent very well.

Avenue Q begins with a rousing number called, “It Sucks To Be Me,” introducing the characters and their dissatisfaction with where their lives are going. Brian, played by Eduardo Rivera, is a struggling comedian, and Kate Monster, portrayed by Shannen Banzhoff, is a puppet who complains about not having a boyfriend.

Princeton, played by Matt Rothenberg, is a puppet and recent college graduate who arrives at Avenue Q to find his purpose in life, a theme that he revisits many times during the musical.

Arielle Pizaña, who plays Christmas Eve, stands out with a unique operatic voice that resembles a young Lea Salonga. In her performance of “The More You Ruv Someone,” she showcases her melodic voice, which leads to a duet with Banzhoff and ends with a beautiful harmony.

Rothenberg also stands out in his performance of “Purpose,” and is reminiscent of the character of Aladdin in the eponymous film.

It is rare for a play or a musical to include a character who physically exemplifies a theme, but that is exactly what happens in Avenue Q. Gary Coleman, played by Yanira Diaz, is known for his character from the television show, “Diff’rent Strokes.” Coleman represents the idea that even though children are told they are special by their parents, the idea does not matter in life, as everyone is treated the same.

Avenue Q touches on many topics that push the envelope for a musical, including racism, homosexuality, and pornography. Dealing with these issues could be daunting for a musical but Avenue Q lays it all on the table and the result is something spectacular.

In a comedy, comedic timing is vital because when done right, it can draw the perfect reaction from the audience. Avenue Q provides excellent use of it, largely due to the relationships between the actors. Avenue Q is not completely funny though. It  had a few moments that were much too corny and not as funny as intended.

After the musical ended, the room raved about the performance. Nathan Biedzynski, a fourth-year Music Education major, thought the musical was extremely entertaining. “It’s my favorite musical so far.”

Erin Ammon, a fourth-year education major, thought the musical was true to life. She described it as a “modern adult take on“’Sesame Street.’”

Overall Avenue Q is a musical everyone could enjoy. It is very modern and all students could relate to it. All of the performances flowed very nicely. Avenue Q breaks through all the boundaries and everyone seems to have a fun time performing.

Avenue Q continues to run on Feb. 14 and 15 at 8 pm. All performances are in the Frank Arts Center Theater and free for Shepherd students.

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