I was afraid the actors in the local staging of "Avenue Q" wouldn't be able to handle all the singing and choreography and puppetry at the same time. The original US production had "Sesame Street" veterans in the cast, so I wasn't sure if Manila actors could hack it.
Luckily my fears have been allayed. And while their puppetry still leaves something to be desired, the singing and overall acting more than make up for it. Not that the puppetry is bad. Unless you compare each scene to the US performances (most of them are up on YouTube), or are a puppeteer by profession, you probably wouldn't even notice much.
The set is a bit sparse, but that's forgivable given the small venue. RCBC theater is a bit intimate (unless you're up in the balcony) which works well for a performance like this. For press night I sat in the front row, which was so close to the stage I could see up Rachel's skirt (she had a unitard on, so none of you pervs call me asking for a change in seats).
The performances were great. Rachel Alejandro manages the transitions from Kate to Lucy well, making full use of her powerful voice. Which, come to think of it, is easy. Kate is Rachel singing "Mr. Cupido," Lucy is when she got older. Newcomer Felix Rivera is perfect as Princeton and hilarious as Rod although his inexperience shows especially when onstage with Joel Trinidad. Joel (who was originally supposed to play Princeton) sings the most popular numbers as Nicky ("If You Were Gay") and Trekkie Monster ("The Internet is for Porn"), which is a feat since the voices are so unalike. Shift your focus from the puppet to his face when watching him.
Props to Aiza Seguerra, who plays Gary Coleman. The New York production cast the part brilliantly, having a woman play it. Manila trumps them by having a fellow former child star, who reinvented herself as a lesbian folk singer, play a black midget who is pitied even by puppets (hmmm... what if she threw in a "duck walk?"). Her "egoy" accent slips a bit but local theater is used to that. (It's nothing like Michael de Mesa's terrible accent in "Proof.")
Frenchie Dy as Christmas Eve looks like a huge Bobby Lee (of MAD TV) with an accent that doesn't feel like a parody. Teenie Chan plays everyone else (the back up birds, the bad idea bear) and does a great job jumping from one puppet to another.
But what carries this show is the material. "Avenue Q" has all of the pop sensibilities of "Rent" minus the angst and death plus the pop culture parody. How many of us have had beer-fueled discussions on the true nature of Bert and Ernie's relationship? Or imagined how puppets reproduced?
"Avenue Q" is played like a "Sesame Street" episode, complete with animated segments and production teaching values like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" or vocabulary words like "Schadenfreude." It also gives helpful tips like "Buy a case of beer every time, you'll be saving in the long run when you buy in bulk."
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Email or text me for tickets. We're still holding on to the good seats for friends.