Celebrating their 90th season, the theatre department of Muskegon Community College is in the middle of a one-weekend run of the hit musical “Avenue Q” at the Overbrook Theater on campus. For those who don’t know, this is the most irreverent puppet show in town and it is NOT appropriate for children. That said, get a sitter and get your ticket before it closes.
When you enter the theater you’ll be treated to a beautifully designed and painted set by Tom Harryman and Brian J. Goodman, which transports you to the days you watched the PBS program “Sesame Street” only grittier…in a good way.
The musical opens with a video throwback to the aforementioned PBS after school television program, which is used effectively throughout the musical. The ensemble’s opening song was overwhelmed by the volume of the orchestra, but this issue did not persist as the show progressed. Music director Sarah Bowman’s orchestra is not visible from the stage and this may have contributed to a few instances of actors occasionally losing the beat to the music or looking tentative when beginning phrases, but conductor Phillip David DeYoung would quickly get the singers matched up to the music.
The cast, perfectly matched to their roles by director Sheila Kulp Wahamaki, struggled with pitch from time to time, but overall handled the oftentimes mature content with enthusiasm and ability.
The cast is led by MCC student actor Aidan Smith as Princeton and Erin Madalyn Mickelson as Kate Monster. Mickelson gives a winning and perfectly on-point performance as the sweet and sometimes sassy Kate Monster. Her voice and intentions are clear and clever throughout, but her standout moment is her ballad “There’s a Fine, Fine, Line” which closes the first act. It’s sweet and sincere and her voice is absolutely lovely.
For this reviewer, the standout is this production is Aidan Smith as Princeton. As one of the nine actors who operates the Muppet-like puppets, Smith has a connection that at times makes you forget you are watching an actor operating a puppet, he simply brings it to life. He continuously references the puppet as he delivers a strong and nuanced performance, which helps the audience connect the two. I’ve seen many productions at MCC, including those in which Smith was cast, but I found myself watching and wondering where this kid with the stunning voice and natural ease with being onstage came from and where he could be going as he moves up and on.
Gabe Cerchiori and Aaron Ponce play Rod and Nicky, an homage to “…Street’s” Bert and Ernie. They both nail the classic voices and personalities of the characters, although at times Cerchiori’s voice drops off and the end of sentences and is difficult to hear, despite the excellent sound engineering by Mike Council.
Not all the characters on Avenue Q are puppets, Paul Dickens-Jacobs and Katie McCool are well-matched as the couple Brian and Christmas Eve and D’marco Hughes plays building superintendent Gary Coleman, complete with the expected punch lines.
The rest of the puppeteer cast includes Sarah Stepanek as the slinky and sexy Lucy the stripper and Tim Hegedus, who gives a strong performance as Trekkie monster. Hannah Erdman, Madisen Schuppe, Claire Beaman, Robin Carpenter and Adrianne Lewis fill out the cast performing anything from cardboard boxes to right-hands of some of the main puppets. Lewis is especially clever with her take on one of the Bad Idea Bears, she voices this puppet in a way that made me giggle every time.
Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. tonight, Oct. 15, and 3 p.m. Sunday Oct. 16.
Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for current MCC students, faculty and employees. For reservations and more information, call (231) 777-0324.
This is a Fishbowl staff review.