By Jeff Walsh
After seeing some Broadway shows over the holidays, one of the truly breakout performers I got to see was Howie Michael Smith in Avenue Q. In the dual role of Princeton and Rod, Smith is a flurry of activity. You can see his pure joy of being up onstage and bringing two distinct personalities and voices to his characters in the show.
Princeton is the character that moves to Avenue Q at the start of the show, wondering what he can do now with his B.A. in English. He started apartment hunting on Avenue A, but couldn't afford any of the rents until he got way out until Avenue Q. He falls in love with Kate Monster, and even has a sex scene during the show.
Rod is the older, closeted character that sits home and reads books about Broadway musicals. He seems to be fashioned after Bert, with a hidden crush on Nicky, his Ernie. (Not that Bert and Ernie are gay or anything!).
By Jeff Walsh
I'll admit up front that I was hesitant seeing "Avenue Q," primarily because the people who talked it up got really excited when The Muppet Show was released on DVD. They reeked of bias. Not that I'm anti-puppet, necessarily. It was always an issue of "but there are all these other shows to see with, like, people in them." My fears ended up being misguided.
"Avenue Q" admittedly doesn't take itself seriously, but it's not self-referential or a send-up of a Broadway musical done with puppets, either. The show stands on its own. The songs are all fun, well-written, and memorable. The strangest thing to process was the puppeteers performing onstage with their puppets on one hand and wands to move the puppet's arms in the other. The natural inclination was to look at the puppeteers, despite them being clad in neutral tones and delivering their performances through their puppets. They often had the same expressions as their puppets, and were fully invested in the role so they were singing fully and passionately (it wasn't ventriloquism). But after a while, you'd realize that the scene, songs, and sightlines were all happening between the puppets and the human actors playing other roles onstage, so you eventually shifted your focus.