My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

Theatre review

Avenue Q

by Drew Rowsome
Photos by Seanna Kennedy

Avenue Q runs until Sat, Aug 3 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave.,

The Lower Ossington Theatre could be forgiven for just running Avenue Q and Rent in repertory for perpetuity. The duo of shows are entertaining and each revisit of Rent just gets deeper and more intriguing. This summer's remount of Avenue Q has likewise had some minor work done and is once again of the liveliest, most entertaining shows around. This is my fifth time seeing a production of Avenue Q, three of them at LOT, and each time I am startled by  just how funny and witty Jeff Whitty's book is and how clever and catchy the songs are. And each time I marvel at how a bleak story of the travails of life can be turned into such a feel good musical.

The cast in this remount is up to the challenge and deliver the melodies beautifully and have such energy and enthusiasm that they almost upstage the puppets. Some of the performers are repeating roles but seem to have tapped a reservoir of pizzaz so that every moment feels fresh. Phil Skala is a charmingly knuckle-headed Nicky and a seductive Bad Idea Bear, and Jacqueline Martin ably manages the polar opposite roles of Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut. Both have voices that switch effortlessly between characters and soar when necessary. 

The night we attended our LOT favourite Adam Norrad was out with Stephen Amon was filling in as Trekkie Monster. This Trekkie is much lewder and energetic than remembered but he is also a scene-stealer. This version of the show makes more of the incongruity of puppets being sexual which delighted the audience and also oddly gave the show an innocence. We believe that Princeton, a very fine voiced Graham Scott Fleming on the night we attended, is a fresh-faced newcomer to the world of hard knocks and we also believe in his sexual prowess to attract and satiate Lucy the Slut. Fleming does double duty as the closeted Rod who also supplies the most engaging parts of the plot. This Rod treads the line of flamboyance and stuffiness effortlessly and the only quibble is that Rod's higher-pitched and scratchy voice, to differentiate the vocals from Princeton's, doesn't allow Fleming's naturally glorious voice to achieve the heights LOT audiences remember from Rent and Forever Plaid

First time viewers will probably not notice, but notice should be paid to the heavy lifting done by Shannon Dickens who is the other Bad Idea Bear and Mrs Thistletwat but also fills in for puppet changeovers and has an astounding body language that, of all the cast, blends puppet and performer into a complete whole - very subtle and strong work that supports the ensemble seamlessly. The characters playing humans are inevitably at a disadvantage but they rise to the occasion and sparkle despite the absence of having counterparts made of felt. 

The staging is slicker - the projections and film clips have been updated immensely - and the insertion of topical jokes (particularly one Rob Ford zinger) helps ground Avenue Q in the present. For a show that is over a decade old it now feels timeless with songs like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "If You Were Gay" still having the power to be hilarious while digging under the audience's skin and causing exquisite squirming. I called the original LOT production, "Fast, funny and subversive," and it is an accurate assessment of this remount.

Avenue Q runs until Sat, Aug 3 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave.,