Reston Community Players delivers a hilarious and heartfelt production of Avenue Q. The show is both campy and edgy, subverting expectations of adult themes and messaging by presenting them in the style of children’s television. Director Joey Olson is uniquely equipped to bring Avenue Q to life for Reston Community Players, having extensive theatrical experience as well as having previously worked on the film Muppets from Space.
The overall design may look to be filled with childlike wonder, but its content is made for adults. The Tony Award–winning show debuted in 2003 and continues to represent universal experiences that will make you laugh, cry, or both. However, much like watching a movie from yesteryear, some of the jokes don’t age well while others may get bigger laughs than ever. Overall, the book still holds up as a comedic piece of musical theater.
The story begins in the familiar-looking neighborhood of Avenue Q with a community of humans, puppet people, and puppet monsters. Princeton, played by Bennett Atwater, is a recent college graduate with big dreams and a B.A. in English. Atwater’s performance is energetic and endearing as young Princeton. We soon meet Kate Monster, played by Colleen Lynch. Lynch is a triple threat as a strong singer, comedian, and puppeteer. She takes us on a journey from naive 20-something to independent Monster who is learning to stand on her own two (metaphorical) feet.
The supporting cast is stellar, showcasing strong performances throughout the production. Jim Bowen-Collinson as Rod gets the biggest laughs of the show thanks to his layered yet over-the-top performance. Erich DiCenzo’s Nicky is perfectly paired with Bowen-Collinson. DiCenzo is funny, sincere, and an excellent puppet performer with his right hand Ethan Keller. I found myself focusing on the Nicky puppet more than any other character, which is a testament to the skills of both DiCenzo and Keller and their performance through the two-handed puppet. Evan Zimmerman is hilarious as Trekkie Monster, especially in a certain song about the internet with his right hand Joshua McCreary. (The two performers alternate the role of Trekkie Monster.)
The Bad Idea Bears played by Stacy Crickmer and Ethan Keller are adorably deplorable. They fully embody fluffy chaotic evil as they encourage the lovers to follow through on their bad ideas. Stacy Crickmer also served as the show’s choreographer and it is clear she understood the humor and tone of the show. Cara Giambrone plays Mrs.Thistletwat with a great deadpan delivery and works with Crickmer and Keller in additional supporting roles. Brittany Washington as Lucy T. Slut gives a stand-out performance in her song “Special.” One of the funniest moments of the night occurs in Act II with Lucy, thanks to a simple but sudden chain reaction paired with dramatic lighting designed by Ken and Patti Crowley.
The human characters are just as vibrant as their felt counterparts. Ashley Williams is wonderful as Gary Coleman, bringing strong vocals and punchy line readings to every scene. Jack Dixon as Brian is great as the bumbling companion you may see in a sitcom; someone who will show up to say something funny before helping you out of a funk. Kyle Chua as Christmas Eve is outrageously dressed and ready to insert themself into any situation.
The seven-member orchestra is outstanding. Music Director David Jaynes, Conductor Sara Watson, Sound Designer Elizabeth Shaher, and the talented musicians are instrumental in bringing the musical to life. The set design from Dan Widerski and Anna Mintz is simple and very effective in creating the distinctive neighborhood atmosphere of Avenue Q with nods to Sesame Street and other Jim Henson creations throughout the design. Melissa York-Tilley served as show consultant.
To me, the most important aspect of any production of Avenue Q is the puppetry. The mark of good puppetry is when the audience unknowingly shifts focus off of the human and can engage with the puppet character. The puppet work in this production is commendable, thanks to puppet consultants Nathan Cloud and Julia Tesheva. The puppets used in this production were originally designed by Rick Lyons.
Reston Community Players’ Avenue Q is a production that will likely sell out its remaining performances, so be sure to get your tickets soon if you plan on attending. Because unlike death and paying taxes, this show is only “For Now” and closes on October 29!
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission.
Avenue Q plays through October 29, 2023, presented by Reston Community Players, performing at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage, 2310 Colts Neck Road in Reston, VA. For tickets ($25–$30), contact the box office at 703-476-4500 x38 or purchase online. CenterStage is accessible and offers listening devices for the hearing impaired.
The program for Avenue Q is online here.
(Full disclosure: I am a super fan of Avenue Q and have been a lifelong fan of Jim Henson and Henson Studios. If you’re looking for more hilarious puppet-related content for adults, I recommend the film The Happytime Murders directed by Brian Henson. If you’re planning to travel to the Los Angeles area, you may also want to visit Henson Studios and see a performance from their puppet improv troupe “Puppet Up.” For family-friendly puppet-related content that is still entertaining for adult viewers, you may enjoy the television series The Barbarian and the Troll. — L.M.)