Friday, December 15, 2017
Features and More

Review: MAD Theatre's 'Avenue Q' deserves its standing ovations

TAMPA — The hottest ticket in town is for a community theater production of a glorified puppet show.

Even before opening night, every seat for every performance of MAD Theatre's staging of Avenue Q was sold out. Cathy Hooten, MAD's artistic director, said she's "the most popular person in town" because she's continuously fielding calls from friends and acquaintances trying to schmooze a stray ticket or two.

The people who had the perspicacity to get tickets early have a right to feel a bit superior: Avenue Q is a complete delight.

The 10-year-old musical, which is sort of a riff on Sesame Street and is simultaneously cute and cynical, astounded Broadway with its freshness. It mixes live actors with hand-held puppets — some modeled consciously after Muppets — and it's set on a run-down street populated by likeable but directionless characters. One says he started looking for an apartment on Avenue A, then worked his way back. Avenue Q was the first street with places he could afford. One resident is former child actor Gary Coleman, down on his luck and working as a super. (Of course, the show premiered when Coleman was still living.)

The songs are bouncy, with melodies that would be at home in a kids show, but with slightly edgy lyrics. There's one in which a guy tells his closeted friend that it's okay to be gay, another in which two buddies sing about the joy in experiencing the misfortune of others.

The MAD Theatre production is better than we have a right to expect from a community theater production. The entire cast is charismatic and has the singing and acting shops to carry the show. Perhaps most impressively, their puppetry was superb.

Avenue Q is an ensemble show with no real "star," and here the entire cast is wonderful so it's not right to single out individual performances. The entire seven-person cast merits mention, so here they are: Stephen Riordan, Melissa Doell, Marcus Blake, Caitlin Greene, Justin Havard, Heather Spillane and Gabriel McIver.

If you're looking for weaknesses, you might be able to find them in the harmonies, which aren't precise enough to have a lot of punch. But most people won't notice that, and the individual voices are fine. The singers are supported by a backstage six-piece band that's quite good.

On Saturday evening, it appeared that some of the audience members thought they were coming to the Straz Center to see the national tour of Avenue Q. (Hooten said that happens often at MAD productions.) Dressed in finery and seemingly perplexed by the small size of the Shimberg Playhouse, they may have left without knowing that this was "just" community theater. The production is that good, and it earned a standing ovation from the entire house.

Marty Clear can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Festivus 2017: Submit your grievances and complaints here

Festivus 2017: Submit your grievances and complaints here

Here's your chance. Tell us what annoyed you in 2017, and we'll share it with our readers.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to marry May 19

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to marry May 19

LONDON — Kensington Palace says the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be held on May 19. The palace announced the date Friday and confirmed the ceremony will take place in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The couple announced their...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Inside Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s first Christmas without leader Paul O’Neill

Inside Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s first Christmas without leader Paul O’Neill

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A half hour to curtain, Al Pitrelli unwinds on a couch in his spartan dressing quarters, fresh off a loading-dock Marlboro. He’s deep inside an arena, about to play the 29th show in the 18th city of the Trans-Siberian ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

The theatrical tour about the death of Martin Luther King Jr. that Tavis Smiley was slated to bring to Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has been canceled in the wake sexual misconduct allegations against the broadcaster.Death...
Updated: 3 hours ago
This week's top holiday events: Parades, Christmas lights, theme parks and more

This week's top holiday events: Parades, Christmas lights, theme parks and more

PARADES Homosassa Christmas Boat Parade Parade begins at Marker 75 by Bird Island. Free. Homosassa Springs Marina, 10806 W Halls River Road, Homosassa. 6 p.m. Dec. 16.   Indian Rocks Beach Boat Parade It begins at the Holiday Inn Harbourside and...
Published: 12/14/17
Bar review: Spanish flair at Bulla Gastrobar in South Tampa

Bar review: Spanish flair at Bulla Gastrobar in South Tampa

Take a second and try to think of a few of the world’s biggest drinking cultures. Ireland is a freebie, but then you’ll probably move onto Germany, Russia and possibly even South Korea (yep, South Korea goes hard).How about Spain? No, I’m not just ta...
Published: 12/14/17
From Crystal River to Brooksville, branch out to shop on these unexpected main streets

From Crystal River to Brooksville, branch out to shop on these unexpected main streets

You don’t have to stare at a greeting card to picture a bustling old main street lined with decorated shops and lampposts. Historic small-town shopping districts are easy to find, and more charming than Walmart. Beyond the downtowns of St. Pet...
Published: 12/14/17
New locations for Tampa’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, plus a Mario Lopez appearance

New locations for Tampa’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, plus a Mario Lopez appearance

New Year’s Eve fireworks in downtown Tampa will be a little different this year, as free, public viewing moves from Channelside Bay Plaza to Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park behind Amalie Arena due to ongoing construction. Meanwhile, the Pied Pipe...
Published: 12/14/17
Poll: Most Americans say 'Merry Christmas' and prefer Rudolph over Charlie Brown

Poll: Most Americans say 'Merry Christmas' and prefer Rudolph over Charlie Brown

The Monmouth University Polling institute released the results of their Christmas poll today.
Published: 12/14/17
‘This has gone too far,’ says defiant Tavis Smiley after PBS suspends his show for ‘misconduct’

‘This has gone too far,’ says defiant Tavis Smiley after PBS suspends his show for ‘misconduct’

PBS is "indefinitely" suspending distribution of the late-night talk show "Tavis Smiley" after multiple misconduct allegations emerged against the show’s 53-year-old host, PBS announced Wednesday.While a statement from a PBS spokeswoman did not say w...
Published: 12/14/17