Five months after its first staging of the bawdy Broadway musical Avenue Q, the District Theatre has brought back its prurient puppets for another round, and with the replacements of just two cast members and minor reworkings made by director Marc Ciemiewicz, this return performance is still enough improved (from an already laudable production) to make the show worth seeing again, if not for the first time.
With its book by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Avenue Q is a comically offensive puppet show - with the puppeteers fully visible - about the tenants of an apartment building in one of New York's lowest-rent neighborhoods. Its humans (some actually human and some puppet-human) and monsters interact, lament their collective lack of money and reasons for being, and, well, shag, and as in the show's October run, Erin Churchill's performance as Kate Monster remains the best reason to see the production. Churchill has a clear knack for puppetry, with Kate just as interesting to watch as the talent operating her, and the actor manages to channel her expressions into her puppet's features while using her own face to supplement the feat.
Bryan Tank's puppetry, meanwhile, is much improved from the production's previous District Theatre engagement, especially regarding his control of the purpose-seeking Princeton's hands. However, Tank himself remains the more interesting one to watch, as he's yet to learn how to make his puppet facially expressive. Tristan Layne Tapscott's handling of the closeted Republican investment banker Rod is also better controlled and more emotionally effective, while Joe Maubach's slob-roommate Nicky boasts even more of the actor's trademark humor. (At one point on Saturday, as a song was beginning, Maubach twisted a finger in the puppet's ear, suggesting Nicky's belief that there must be something wrong with his hearing - why else would he suddenly hear music from out of nowhere?)
Stepping into the role of building superintendent Gary Coleman, Kiarri Andrews brings nuance and sympathy to the part, while Nina Schreckengost, who has big shoes to fill in replacing Kelly Lohrenz as Lucy the Slut, manages to bring a baser sluttiness to the part that's different from Lohrenz's take, but equally amusing.
For Ciemiewicz's part, he has ramped up the puppet-on-puppet sex for the "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want" number, rendering it even more offensive, and funnier, than it was before. And Maubach's professional-looking animation and video designs are also leaps-and-bounds better this time around. While five months seems too soon for a District Theatre revival, Avenue Q's upgrades make its return run make sense, and make the show a not-to-be-missed production.
Avenue Q runs at the District Theatre (1611 Second Avenue, Rock Island) through March 30, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)235-1654 or visiting DistrictTheatre.com.
For Thom White's review of the October, 2012 Avenue Q, visit RCReader.com/y/avenueq.