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Theater Three successfully hitches a ride along 'Avenue Q'

Avenue Q

Through July 29

Theatre Too!, the basement space at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St., Suite 168, Dallas




Posted 11:57am on Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2012

DALLAS -- If the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q felt naughty on the Broadway stage and in the big performance halls where it played on national tours (including Bass Hall and Dallas' Winspear Opera House), then wait till you see it in the tiny confines of Theatre Too!, the basement space of Theatre Three.

Puppets cussing, doing the nasty and singing the praises of Internet pornography come across as downright dirty, amplified by the puppeteers' ability to interact with the audience on a more intimate level. And thanks to T3's team of designers and performers, it's still shockingly funny, even if you've seen it several times.

That's important, because the show, in which the puppets bear no resemblance to characters on Sesame Street -- except they somehow do -- drives home its message by deftly using things we identify with our childhood (that would be puppets and the groundbreaking PBS show) to echo something that most of the audience can still identify with. In other words, life isn't as simple as A-B-C.

Michael Serrecchia directs the first locally produced professional production of the show in Dallas (there was a community theater production in Denton this spring) that features a book by Jeff Whitty and bouncy music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. The puppets have been beautifully designed by Michael Robinson and Pix Smith of Dallas Puppet Theater, and many of them have multiple versions, since it's easier to make new puppets than do puppet costume changes during a show.

Matt Purvis, who works the Princeton and Rod characters, is the most skilled puppet manipulator and, since the puppeteers are in full view of the audience, best reflects the characters' expressions. His singing even is reminiscent of John Tartaglia, who created those roles.

Megan Kelly Bates, as Kate Monster and the promiscuous nightclub singer Lucy, also handles the voices well, although her puppeteering skills aren't always a perfect match. James Chandler, who plays Nicky, nails the voice of Sesame Street's Ernie (roommates Rod and Nicky are riffs on Bert and Ernie), and Robinson has a ball as Trekkie Monster.

Three actors play human characters: M. Denise Lee is former child star Gary Coleman, the landlord of the building these characters live in; Chester Maple is the out-of-work comic, Brian; and Olivia de Guzman Emile is his over-the-top Japanese girlfriend, Christmas Eve. They're all delightful, as is the entire cast, even if the opening-night performance felt slow.

T3's founding producer, Jac Alder, who gets a clever puppet cameo for the curtain speech, designed the set, which nicely incorporates the idea of a two-story tenement into a small basement space with a low ceiling.

Rumor has it that if this production does well at the box office, T3 could extend it and then bring it back annually, like it does with its oft-revived hit I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (that is, after some renovation to the basement later this year).

Count on the potty-mouthed puppets to be back.

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