What do you do with a B.A. in English? One option is to go see Silhouette Stages’ production of Avenue Q. Directors Mo Dutterer and Ric Ryder alongside Musical Director Michael Tan bring the area premier of this raunchy racy Broadway sensation to life like nobody else. It’s Muppets for adults with catchy upbeat tunes like “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn.” This hilarious show is sure to keep you in stitches from the overture to the curtain call.
Set Designer Alex Porter captures the essence of a dodgy New York City streetscape with his apartment building backdrop. Porter shows us the grungy details of the city with graffiti marks and hints of broken windows all while centrally encompassing the large plasma screen necessary for the digital media that goes along with the show. It’s a fantastic fun experience to see the characters emerge from within this realistic looking set as they flit in and out of each other’s lives through jaunty song and dance. And we must nod our puppet heads to Choreographer Tina DeSimone for her simplistic but well synchronized dances that appear throughout. Her best work is scene in the opening number “It Sucks to Be Me” and the kick-line that ensues. DeSimone’s very simple tactics and techniques ensure that everyone is completely in synch making the choreography look complex and perfect.
This crazy cast of characters are truly memorable as portrayed by these talented actors. For the most part they even master the illusion of blending into their puppet characters. The best execution of this is seen with Nicky (puppeted by Brian Sackett and Clare Kneebone.) This team of puppeteers keeps Nicky constantly moving, his mouth perfectly synched and you lose yourself in this fuzzy green puppet as he sings engaging songs like “If You Were Gay.” But there are a few moments where the actors forget that they are meant to be extending themselves into their puppets. It is few and far between when this occurs but in moments when Rod (Neil Rushnock) is left gaping during moments where he’s just meant to be in the background, or when Kate Monster (Danielle Sherry)’s lips briefly stop moving during her solo numbers it’s a little distracting.
You will fall in love with the unique casting choice that Dutterer and Ryder have taken with their approach to Gary Coleman (Matt Wetzel.) Traditionally the role is taken on by a black female. Wetzel owns this role as the iconic kid star turned broke so thoroughly that you are laughing almost every time he is on the stage. His shining moment comes during “You Can be as Loud as the Hell You Want” where his facial expressions are so raunchy— well I can’t even describe it! His performance is hands down the best thing about the show. Wetzel masters all of Coleman’s catch phrases and puts such emphatic emotions behind his characters despair in “Schadenfreude,” that you do feel good that your life isn’t as crappy as his.
While Wetzel will keep your focus there are two total scene stealers who wrangle the spotlight every time they make an appearance. To remind us all that “The Internet is for Porn” we have Trekkie Monster (voiced and puppeted by Jim Gross and co-puppeted by Angie Townsend). This huge furry pervert keeps the laughs going during this song and his brief and heartfelt solo toward the end of Act II “School for Monsters.” Words cannot describe the outrageous performance that Gross gives while embodying this fluffy fuzzy monster, popping out of his window at the most inappropriate of times with the most inappropriate things to say; he will keep you thoroughly if naughtily entertained.
The other scene stealer comes from Katrina Janson, the female Bad Idea Bear. Playing opposite Jeff Miller, the Male Bad Idea Bear, Janson hones a squeaky and innocent voice to suggest things like buying a case of beer to save money during a financial crisis rather than a simple six-pack. She makes incredible facial expressions to show her bear’s happy and sad moments and in a production where the puppet’s facial features are limited in their range of motion such expressions can be the striking difference between a good performance and an amazing one.
Kate Monster (Danielle Sherry) and Princeton (Ryan Geiger) are well matched not only in using their facial expressions to show their puppet’s emotions but in their vocal talents. Sherry is wildly expressive especially when she goes from pessimistic to optimistic to confused during “Mix Tape.” Her voice is powerful as is Geiger’s, which is most noticeable during his song “Purpose.” The pair create great chemistry especially during the song “You Can be as Loud as the Hell You Want” where they synch their puppetry movements into the most raunchy live puppet sex you will ever see.
Avenue Q is an enjoyable experience and ou will learn everything you ever needed to know from these inappropriate puppets. Silhouette Stages’ (first in the area) wonderful and hysterical production has set the bar high for other productions of Avenue Q that will follow.
Avenue Q should not be missed if you love dark and inappropriate humor live on stage. I’m so glad that Silhouette Stages was pulling the strings!
Avenue Q plays through March 11, 2012 at Silhouette Stages at Slayton House Theatre in Wild Lake Village Center – 10400 Cross Fox Lane, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or purchase them online.