M.A.D. Theatre of Tampa’s current production of the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q is up to par with a national production. The musical is based around the puppet Princeton, played by Stephen Riordan, who is dealing with financial and existential dilemmas after graduating from college.
“What do you do with a BA in English?” he sings; a question many liberal arts grads can relate to. He finds a cheap apartment on Avenue Q, a fictional street in the outskirts of New York City. There he meets an array of characters, both human and puppet, all going through their own problems.
Riordan also plays Rod, an in-the-closet uptight Republican investment banker, who is secretly in love with his roommate Nicky, played by Marcus Blake. Nicky assures Rod the he would still be friends with him if he came out in the hilarious song, “If You Were Gay.”
Kate Monster, played by Melissa Doell with a Disney princess-esque voice, is Princeton’s on and off innocent love interest whose goal in life is to open a school for monsters. She is so naïve that she believes people use the Internet is used for seeking information — until Trekkie monster confirms that what we all know that “The Internet Is for Porn.” Blake also plays Trekkie and has both voices nailed in Muppet-like perfection.
All of the puppeteers and actors are of professional quality especially Caitlin Greene as Lucy the Slut and Gabriel McIver as Gary Coleman. The Gary Coleman, rest in peace. Coleman is forced to be the superintendent of the Avenue Q apartments after his parents stole his child-acting money, similar to his real life plight.
Straz’s Shimberg Playhouse is a great intimate setting for this smaller production of the Broadway hit. The puppets sometimes seem to look into your eyes as they sing. They even pass around hats, guiltily persuading the audience members to give them money. I gave Gary Coleman one dollar; it just seemed right.
The bottom of the “Avenue Q” program has the following warning:” Avenue Q has not been authorized or approved by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its contents.”
I think Henson would be proud of this homage to the Muppets we grew up with. But instead of them staying the same age and living on Sesame Street for the rest of their lives, the puppets on Avenue Q grew up with us. They deal with real life stuff like not making rent, one night stands, unemployment and of course, porn. All the good stuff of being and adult, right?
M.A.D. Theatre presents Avenue Q at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center, 1010 N W.C. MacInnes Place, Tampa through Aug. 19. Shows are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The show is for mature audiences. Tickets start at $20 and are available at strazcenter.org or by calling 813-229-7827.