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July 19, 2010

A REVIEW – X-Rated “Muppets”

Roy Meachum

Wondering how any puppet show could win three Tony awards, to find out I wandered into the 7th Street theatre for the Washington Shakespeare Company for Friday’s opening night.


“8th Avenue” swims through the theatrical channel of half-man/woman and half-inanimate materials; as far as I figured out there was no wood in gloriously figured heads, complete with big eyes, in the tradition of Jim Henson. The Muppets’ creator had a tremendous effect on the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s audience. Looking around, I had trouble spotting faces that were earlier than the post-World War II generation.


The oldest Baby Boomers were only nine years old when Jim Henson bowed on television; I was there. The University of Maryland has an impressive display about its famous graduate; my name rests among the other items. I am given credit for triggering the road to TV glory for Jim, in 1954. In a large WTOP radio studio he auditioned for Channel 9’s Saturday show, along with a blonde named Jane and a buzz-cut adorned Russ. The proto-Muppets were hired to make visuals while records play. His first salary was miniscule, something in the range of $25. Jim Henson’s trio performed in the traditional puppeteers’ way: out-of-sight.


In “Avenue Q,” on the other hand, the human beings are on stage and make no effort to “throw their voices,” as happened with Edgar Bergen, who created the most popular puppet before World War II. Charlie McCarthy sat on his lap and his voice belonged to ventriloquist Bergen, who did a great job articulating words while his lips remained virtually shut.


The young men given credit for the whole idea, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, envisioned a show where the real men and women were conceived as full co-stars. Brent Michael DiRoma, Jacqueline Grabois and Charles M. Baskerville, Kerrie Brackman, Lisa Helmi Johanson, Julianna Lee and Zach Timmer almost steal the show from right under the big eyes of their inanimate companions. By the way, in the course of the story playing out, the puppets carry on sexual peccadilloes, which is why, if a movie, it would be rated X, as in no children.



As usual, I will not get into the plot on the Landsburgh Theatre’s stage for the next four weeks, lest I ruin the surprises. But the people for opening night gulped pauses between their laughter; it’s that funny for adults. Although a puppet show, “Avenue Q” is not for kiddies.


All the props, including a fantastic set, go into the trunks after August 15’s performance. It would be a pity if you didn’t get to see it. As the Germans say: Wie Schade! The Italians opine: Che peccata! In any event, don’t let the Tony Award winner get out of Washington without grabbing this chance. It might not return again. And the French would lament: Quelle domage.


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