Friday, June 8, 2012

Raunchy, Rude and Rocking: Lyric Stage Company Presents "Avenue Q"

In 2004, Broadway brought forth a new comedy musical that was a familiar take on reality that explored the post-college adventures and lives of several unique individuals.  However, these individuals were mostly made up of the furry and fluffy sort.  This show of course, was "Avenue Q". Viewed as an almost  R-rated "Sesame Street" this hilarious musical garnered several Tonys for not only its raunchy humor, fun characters and plot, but the more rambunctious songs peppered throughout, including "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" and "It Sucks To Be Me". The Lyric Stage in Boston is currently running their production of "Avenue Q".

"Avenue Q" tells the story of young college graduate Princeton, fresh-faced and out to find his purpose in life. After moving to New York, he ends up finding a nice little neighborhood, a bit of the run-down side, but full of heart called Avenue Q.  There he meets all sorts of interesting characters, puppet and human alike, and their own stories intertwine with his as they deal with their own issues.  We see the reality that their adult lives were not all full of promise and hope they dreamed of when they were kids. Also, Gary Coleman happened to be the Superintendent, which of course, adds to the levels of hilarity.

The music composed Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx is without a doubt, clever, witty and above all, extremely funny.  With tones of sing songy children's tunes, the content is far from something for a child.  Most of the score is made up of ridiculous and funny songs, but within it, there are few sweet ones, that really give the show true heart.  However, there were a few in there, including "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" that in content, quietly lamented about the things we all miss about about college, good and bad, that had no real set up. It has no place in the story, but it doesn't mean it wasn't a great song.  It felt all across the board that the songs were written first, with a somewhat relatable story built around it.  Despite the shortcomings of book and song, everything was extremely solid.

The cast was a truly a talented bunch.  Each gave wonderful performances that shined in each of their individual moments and scenes. From the relationships they created, touching to tumultuous, they all shared a strong chemistry. The scene-stealer of the night had to be Phil Tayler, as he portrayed the loud and net surfing Trekkie Monster, fun-loving and well-meaning Nicky and one half the cute yet manipulative Bad Idea Bears.   With his songs and his puppets, they were in sync with plenty servings of hilarity. His moments did not upstage anyone else in the cast, of course,  as everyone in the whole cast not only were expert in their usage of puppets, but all played well off each other.  They were again, a very funny and enjoyable ensemble.

Spiro Veloudos' direction was solid, especially in the space for the Lyric. The stage was center between three audience seating areas, therefore this particular stadium setting had to be used carefully. Veloudos had everyone play to the audience as much as possible on all sides, though not nearly enough to house right. It was distracting, especially between moments where listening to the lyrics helped feed a particular funny song.  The space worked against it, but it was a strong attempt to use every bit of it, especially because of the design.  Kathryn Kawecki's set design  perfectly captured a down-trodden neighborhood and managed to cram it all in the space.  It was full of heart and character and reflected the uniqueness of the residents.  Frank Meissner's lighting was not a super complex design, as nothing over the top would be suited for this particular show. He did give us a great use of a disco ball that when the light hit it just right, it created wonderful moods and moments. 

There is not denying that bringing such a great such to Boston was a perfect move by the Lyric.  The show reflected a lot of what of people knew and felt as they either came right out of school, or found themselves at a difficult point.  Masked in catchy numbers and fun moments, this production "Avenue Q" was of full of heaps of heart and hilarity, and reminding that even though things sometimes don't turn out the way we want, life goes on and its okay to laugh about certain things once in a while.  The Lyric Stage Company presented a great show with a talented cast, human and puppet alike, showing us that in life, good and bad, everything is only "For Now".

Monday, June 4, 2012

Witty and Silly, Very Smart and Full of Heart: The Huntington Theatre Presents "Private Lives"

"Private Lives"

Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Maria Aitken

The Huntington Theatre brings so many interesting pieces to their stage and has had a very strong track record in their theatrical endeavors.  Playwright and songwriter Noel Coward's "Private Lives" recently opened and there was plenty of buzz surrounding it that it was evident that this one was going to be a lot of fun.

"Private Lives" tells the story of divorc├ęs Amanda and Elyot, having divorced each other five years early, starting fresh with their new respective spouses, Victor and Sybl, on their honeymoons.  By unfortunate chance, they both end up running into each other as they both are staying at the same place.   However, unexpectedly, they soon find themselves still harboring feelings for one another and their spark is once again reignited.

Coward's play is made up of three acts, but the structure feels like a miniseries in some ways. In the sense of how it was presented, it could be very well adapted into a TV show, as we are constantly given the typical "cliffhanger" after each act.  Granted, the first act could have been a standalone show because of how much was developed in a short amount of time.  The second act felt unnecessary, as it might have filled in gaps, but instead, it drew certain things out way too long. Very little was developed and watching the third act, it was a wonder why it was not shortened a bit.  All three could have been edited down to a two-act show.  However, despite its length, there was a great deal of clever wit and sharp dialogue within the piece.  Combined with the clever timing and energy of the performances, the words flourished. It was quite the riot.

Across the board, each actor gave a great performance.  Seeing Bianco Amato's Amanda and James Waterston's Elyot play off each was a lot of fun to watch, as their chemistry fired away like pistons.  They were in sync and not only worked well with one another, but their individual performances were strong and extremely, joyously energetic. Biano's Amanda was hilariously sassy and poised, giving a fiery performance. Waterston's wiry movements and reactions mixed with his wonderful comedic timing was quite enjoyable. The show was quite the marathon and those two never let up for a second. Their humorous presences helped carry the piece.  Far from being just the spouses, Autumn Hurlbert's Sybl was sweet yet sharp in her performance, and Jeremy Webb's Victor was confident and firm, always the protector. It was a great bonus to see those two play off each other as they got their moments to shine together.  Though she was only on stage for a few minutes, Paula Plum's servant Louise stole some scenes with her overly ridiculous French attitude and constant sneezing. It was very fun.  Everyone gave strong performances as expected and all contributed to develop fantastic moments.

Maria Aitken's direction was simple, yet she gave us nice scene pictures throughout the show.  Much of the time, there were several silent moments in the play that were sprinkled throughout ended up being quite hilarious.  The choices that were made during said moments were clever and fun, never becoming awkward.  There were also intricate physical and emotional distances that were created on stage, giving a bold statement on the relationship of Amanda and Elyot. It was very strong.

The set design was beautiful. Allen Moyer's design was not only meticulous and extremely detailed in presentation, but it also transported the audience back in time, drawing all of us in. Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting design deserves a great deal of praise as well, as his beautifully creates the afterglow of the evening and early morning sunshine. The colors were simple, but they were perfect choices for setting the moods of each scene. Tech wise, everything came together well and never upstaged each other. They worked in tandem. Overall, everything in presentation was very classy.

Despite being lengthy in some parts, The Huntington's production of "Private Lives" hits it out of the park. The performances, direction and production value were all fantastic across the board. Witty and fun, its a true testament that certain things in life are full of unexpected chances and unusual consequences, and this production has it in spades. This show will most certainly leave you laughing and smiling. This is definitely a show to check out.