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Review: Life lessons winningly taught on 'Avenue Q'

Critic's Choice

December 06, 2012|By Philip Brandes
  • Twentysomethings (puppets operated by Chris Kauffmann and Danielle Judovits) discover that "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" in DOMA Theatre Company's "Avenue Q."
Twentysomethings (puppets operated by Chris Kauffmann and Danielle Judovits)… (Michael Lamont )

The disarmingly cross-eyed puppets of  “Avenue Q” may have taken up a more modest residence than in touring productions past, but they’re still thoroughly engaging in DOMA Theatre Company’s accomplished local revival, which remains faithful to the spirit of the 2004 Tony-winning musical in every way that counts.

A few compromises in budget and stage space notwithstanding, Richard Israel’s savvy direction honors without embellishment the big furry heart of creators Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty’s satirical adult spin on our collective “Sesame Street”-infused sensibilities. Here, cute puppets provide seemingly inoffensive cover for teaching edgy and downright raunchy life lessons about racism, sex, poverty and other social afflictions way outside the politically correct borders of the Sesame Workshop.

Israel’s foremost fidelity to the original Broadway production is in using the original “Avenue Q” puppet designs by “Sesame Street” alum Rick Lyon, manned and voiced by fully visible live actors who radiate youthful vitality and passion.

If anything, the 99-seat MET Theatre affords a greater opportunity to appreciate the nuanced emotions these fuzzy creations can convey, particularly in the skilled puppeteering hands of Chris Kauffmann (doubling in the lead roles of naive college grad Princeton and closeted investment banker Rod), with Mark Whitten and Libby Letlow animating various supporting characters.

Danielle Judovits charms as Princeton’s love interest, Kate; Janelle Dote, Benai Boyd and Chris Kerrigan equip their human characters with strong singing voices. Musical director Chris Raymond steers his six-piece band through the pop score with impeccable dynamics and finesse. 

“Avenue Q’s” success led to composer-lyricist Lopez joining “The Book of Mormon” creative team, and there’s a direct boundary-pushing lineage between the shows, as well as a shared underlying sweetness and celebration of the musical genre. Tickets for this one are a lot easier to come by, though.

“Avenue Q,” the MET Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16. Ends Feb. 3. $30. (323) 802-4990 or www.domatheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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