I expect, if you go see Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production of Avenue Q, you’ll have a great time, since they’ve put on a hilariously good production, making the most out of the irreverent puppets, catchy tunes, and clever dialogue.
Including PMT’s current production, Avenue Q has been produced in the Pittsburgh area five times in the last six years: 2013- Stage 62, 2014- University of Pittsburgh Stages; 2016- Red Masquers, 2017- Alumni Theater Company, and 2018- Pittsburgh Musical Theater. So, the Pittsburgh region has definitely embraced this Tony Award-winning show as a keeper.
PMT’s producers have brought Stage 62’s Avenue Q stage director Stephen Santa over to direct the show again for them. And Mr. Santa, in turn, has brought his lead actors Matthew Augustyniak as Princeton, Laura Barletta as Kate Monster, and Jessica Whittington as Christmas Eve with him from the Stage 62 production to reprise their roles for PMT.
Mr. Santa directs a tight, fast-paced show. The stage space at Gargaro Theater is very small, so Mr. Santa definitely had some challenges with fitting everything on stage; he does so beautifully, with the help of clever scene designer Leah Blackwood and every inch of the stage is utilized to the maximum. Mr. Santa does very well with small ensemble scenes, and he is very effective in making sure the puppet work is seamlessly integrated into the choreography and staging of every scene. He doesn’t quite pull off all of the full ensemble scenes, since we get a little too many straight lines of actors standing still across the stage at those moments. But I sympathize with the limited space problem.
The entire ensemble of actor/singers is really talented and funny, with great comic timing, great energy, and good voices. Their puppet work is spot on.
Matthew Augustyniak as Princeton and Laura Barletta as Kate Monster are charming and sympathetic, though both have issues with their topmost registers and Ms. Barletta’s voice gets too nasally for my taste. Likewise, Jessica Whittington as Christmas Eve has some upper register problems and awkwardness switching between her head voice and chest voice, but she is funny and likable. Robyne Parrish is suitably sultry as the sexy noir songstress Lucy. Daniel Pivovar has the weakest singing and acting chops of the ensemble, but he still pulls off a likable Brian. J. Alex Noble and Tyler Brignone are the perfect buddy team as Nick and Rod. I am in awe of Joe York’s ability to sustain the Trekkie Monster voice (reminiscent of one Cooke Monster) through the entire performance. Elly Noble and Brain Mack Sweeney are scene-stealing as the Bad Idea Bears, and Markia Nicole Smith is wacky fun in her role as Gary Coleman. And kudos to Sandy Zwier for working seamlessly as the additional puppeteer. [the_ad id=”6914″]
Lighting by Todd Nonn is not just good, it’s an amazing achievement in a space not in any way originally designed to accommodate theater lighting. The Act I finale wedding dress created by designer Tony Sirk is simply brilliant, and costumes in general continued the theme of fun and wackiness.
Sound design left a lot to be desired. The speaker system was such that if you sat in the back of the audience, you got blasted and the vocals became distorted in the loudest moments. If you sat in the front, the vocals were muddy and often overpowered by the band.
The small band was great and tight as a group, if awkwardly placed in the space, blasting the right side of the audience. There wasn’t any natural volume control or balancing with the vocals, since everything was miked and fed into the sound system, and all of that subtlety was left to the sound designer. More’s the pity. I’m not sure why the band couldn’t have been placed backstage or up on the right balcony, but I don’t know all of the challenges of the space. Unfortunately, there isn’t a pit in the space, which seems odd for a company that does musical theater, but maybe they’re working towards that.
Overall, I expect you’ll really enjoy PMT’s production of Avenue Q, and appreciate the accomplishments of the full company as much as I did.
Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production of Avenue Q runs through May 13, 2018, at the Gargaro Theater in the West End. For information visit www.pittsburghmusicals.com.
Photos by Melissa Wallace
*A previous version of this review included language that did not reflect the mission of Pittsburgh in the Round to bring theater artists and enthusiasts together.*
Categories: Archived Reviews