Review: Mixed Blood’s “Avenue Q”: Hilarious and Surprisingly Stunning

Nicky and Rod (played by Brian Skellenger and Seth Tucker)

If I could pick three words to describe Mixed Blood Theatre’s “Avenue Q,” which opened this Friday in Minneapolis, they would have to be “hilarious” and “surprisingly stunning.”  I saw (and loved) the Broadway touring production of “Avenue Q” (co-created, composed and written by MOT Jeff Marx) when it came to Minneapolis a few years ago, and that is why I was so thrilled to hear that the show was back in town, albeit at a very different venue.  I was also cautiously optimistic.  The gigantic and romantic Orpheum Theatre has quite a different feel than the black box style space at Mixed Blood.

Which is why Friday night’s performance blew me away.  I wasn’t expecting such magnificent voices, moving acting, and brilliant stagecraft at a theater of Mixed Blood’s size and style.  But I’m telling you folks, if you’ve seen “Avenue Q” before, see it again at Mixed Blood, and if you’re an “Avenue Q” virgin, well, this is a phenomenal one night stand.

Speaking of one night stands… Avenue Q is sometimes referred to as the “Puppet Porn Musical” and Mixed Blood plays out the raunchiness and sexiness that is at the core of this show to the max.  With songs like “The Internet is For Porn” and “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love)” this show is perfect for a slightly inebriated and younger audience.  In fact, I would guess that 80% of the audience Friday night was under the age of 40 (unique for Twin Cities theater).

Want to bring your teenage son/daughter/brother?  Mixed Blood’s website has their own suggested age guidelines for the show, or you can take my word for it.  I brought my 16-year-old brother with me on Friday night and he also thoroughly enjoyed the show, and wasn’t offended or too surprised by the sex jokes and other commentary.  I asked him though, what age he thought would be too young for the content.  His recommendation?  Only bring ’em if they’re thirteen and up (unless your kids/sibs are forbidden from watching MTV or listening to hip hop music, in which case, you probably want to shelter them from this show too).

But Avenue Q is more than a raunchy spectacle; the characters and relationships are familiar, complicated, endearing, and at times gut-wrenching.  My brother and I were particularly moved by the roommate/best friend duo Nicky and Rod (played by Brian Skellenger and Seth Tucker), and thought one of the best songs of the night was Nicky’s “If You Were Gay.”  We were also blown away by actress Bonni Allen who flawlessly plays two of the lead female roles, Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut, sometimes magically playing both on stage at the same time.

The stage design and props were clever, and the use of technology both in the theater (a screen playing Sesame Street-like clips to amuse the audience), and outside in the lobby before the show (a video reel with bios of cast and crew) kept us engaged and entertained.

My only complaint?  The character of Gary Coleman is played by a woman.  I’m sorry, but although actress Brittany Bradford has a great voice, it just made it a bit less funny to have that part played by a woman.  For example, the only singers on stage for “The Internet is For Porn” are all male (including puppets), and part of the humor of that song is its macho grossness, with mock masturbation and the like.  It just isn’t that funny to have a female actor pretending to be a male character making thoroughly male gestures. However, this is really a minor point and in the end, has almost no impact on the show’s quality.  A misjudgment by Director Jack Reuler, I think, but a minor one.

My brother made an important point as we were leaving the theater- so many of the jokes in this play are in the musicals, so once you decide you want to see the performance at Mixed Blood, resist the temptation to watch videos of the Broadway musical on Youtube.

One more request/take-away.  The puppets in this show (not the original Broadway ones) are absolutely fabulous.  In fact, I actually wish that Mixed Blood had made little version of Trekkie Monster that they could sell in the lobby.  I would SO get one.

Avenue Q is playing at Mixed Blood Theatre from now until May 1st.  Tickets range from $15 to $28 with $3 discounts for students and seniors. Buy your tickets now – the weekend shows are already starting to sell out. If you’re looking for a great place to eat nearby, we dined for the first time at the new, and very reasonable, little thai place around the corner from the theater, Chai’s Thai Restaurant, and loved it.

*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received two tickets to “Avenue Q” for free in the hope that I would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the tickets for free doesn’t mean that I was obligated to give a glowing review. I wouldn’t recommend anything that I don’t think you’d enjoy. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…