It’s only for now

Phoenix Theatre presents Avenue Q, directed by Robert Kolby Harper, through this weekend

As the musical “Avenue Q” draws to a close, the cast comes together for a resounding chorus of a song called “For Now.” In between phrases, they throw in little teasers about current events or other things most of us hope will pass in a hurry.

Lizabeth recalls that when we saw a touring production of “Avenue Q” at ASU Gammage last season, the buzzword was “John McCain.” Other times it’s been “George Bush.”

We’ve seen several shows that use this device and it’s sometimes difficult to recall every political punchline. But Phoenix Theatre jabs in a different direction — taking aim at actor Charlie Sheen.

There are other differences too, including puppets who get a tad more enthusiastic during a sex scene that feels a bit longer than its touring counterpart. This is one puppet show that’s not even close to being appropriate for children. Since when do puppets read the Kama Sutra?

Emily Mulligan-Ferry plays the sweet Kate Monster and the saucy Lucy (pictured here)

Still, the adults in the crowd — mostly my age and above — loved it. It’s a far cry from the more classic, traditional Broadway fare we typically enjoy at Phoenix Theatre. A risky venture on their part, perhaps — but one that appears to be paying off.

I’m plenty entertained by everything I see at Phoenix Theatre — but uproarious laughter of the magnitude that greeted “Avenue Q” can be elusive for any theater company.

I worried, quite frankly, upon learning “Avenue Q” was being mounted by a regional theater company. It’s a show what can go wrong in so many ways if not tackled by a stellar cast and creative team.

But the stars aligned for “Avenue Q” in Phoenix — with each and every element executed masterfully.

In the vocal powerhouse department, three performers stood out during last Saturday’s matinee performance — David Errigio, Jr. (Nicky/Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear), Emily Mulligan-Ferry (Kate Monster/Lucy) and Toby Yatso (Princeton/Rod). They also rocked in acting and puppetry world.

We always feel the love for Yatso, because he’s a longtime talent at Phoenix Theatre, and one of Lizabeth’s many amazing theater teachers at Arizona School for the Arts. But I’m adding Errigo to my list of must-see actors in all future roles. He’s fresh and espressive with impeccable comedic timing.

The “Gary Coleman” moments felt unnecessary and annoying during my first “Avenue Q” encounter — but it’s a brilliant bit when performed by Yolanda London, best known to Valley families for her work with Childsplay in Tempe.

L to R: Emily Mulligan-Ferry (Kate Monster), David Errigo, Jr. (Trekkie Monster) and Toby Yatso (Princeton)

In many ways, I prefer the Phoenix Theatre production — directed by Robert Kolby Harper — over the touring production of “Avenue Q.”

If you’re up for the sexual content, subtle and otherwise — and you’re not afraid of four-letter words beginning with letters other than “Q” — this is a “not to be missed” show. It’s some of the finest work I’ve ever seen at Phoenix Theatre, and I applaud them for bringing it to Valley audiences with such finesse and flair.

— Lynn

Note: “Avenue Q” is based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. It features book by Jeff Whitty and music/lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Click here to learn about “American Theatre” magazine — which features “20 Questions for Robert Lopez” in its current issue.

Coming up: Art contests and freebies, Puppet shows for children

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