Get ready to be as loud as the hell you want when cheering for the sensational cast of The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s Avenue Q. The outdoor area premier of this Tony Award- winning musical is bringing uproarious laughter to all who venture out this summer to see it. With Muppet style puppets and all the life lessons you could ever hope to learn from a Broadway musical about how life sucks, this riotous evening at the theatre might as well be Sesame Street for adults. The gang of loveable characters will teach you everything you need to know, from what your purpose is in life to how to stop being so politically correct, and then some. It’s a raunchy stimulating romping good time that will have you laughing so hard you’ll be crying. Fair warning— it’s not for children or the easily offended. Or the easily offended children.
Thanks to its unique placement in the heart of the Annapolis harbor scene, AGST’s New York City street set design looks incredibly authentic. The stage is flush between a brick fence and a brick wall and Set Designer Matt Mitchell uses this to his advantage when creating the cityscape. The little row of apartments on Avenue Q, complete with pop-cultural graffiti tags like ‘BB wuz here’ in bright yellow, a reference to Sesame Street’s beloved character Big Bird, seems to stretch out to the rest of a street as if this were really happening in the city and seats were set up for the audience to watch real life unfold.
Being a show where more than half of the leading characters are puppets, the planks of success rest on the shoulders of Master Puppeteer Tim German. Doubling up as the voice of Trekkie Monster, German has provided an intense level of training to these actors in regards to working with the puppets. Each of the puppeteers show a unifying oneness with their puppet, moving fluidly as one entity rather than puppet and puppeteer. German manages to execute near flawless synchronization of actors voices moving in time with the puppets mouths. This is especially true with Colin Hood, who takes the double lead of Princeton and Rod.
The puppet handling is flawless. There are moments throughout the production where Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut (voiced by Malinda Markland) are entering and exiting the scene respectfully, and the handoff between vocalist and the additional puppeteer is remarkable, and they never miss a beat. These actors move with such emotion and enthusiasm from the beginning of the opening number right through the curtain call -that you completely forget that they’re manipulating puppets. The eyes and facial expressions on their faces translate onto the moving faces of the puppets; their body language becomes an extension of the puppet character’s emotions; it is a stunning feat that they accomplish with precision and perfection.
Musical Director Joshua Konick takes the show to the next level of professionalism by ensuring that everyone annunciates and articulates while singing. Konick coaxes powerful sounds from the whole cast, and creates perfect harmonies throughout the show, especially during the three part trio shared in the number “I Wish I Could Go Back To College.” Director Darnell Morris, working with Konick, ensures that Christmas Eve maintains her stereotypical broken English sound throughout the production, giving the audience laugh after laugh when she muddles her way through her lines.
Morris takes a few creative liberties that really work in the shows favor, adding some adorable fantasy sequences between Rod and Nicky during “Fantasies Come True” to create a gushy romantic feeling, is one of the major ones. The other being the extremely hardcore bawdy scenes between puppets and humans during “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want.” Even on Broadway you never saw crazy puppet sex quite like this, especially not with Christmas Eve getting banged out the upstairs apartment window. It’s sensational and the perfect level of over the top really driving this musical number to an orgasmic conclusion.
The actors in this cast have a strong bond between them that resonates to the audience in a palpable wave of friendship and camaraderie. They become the little neighborhood community that their characters are meant to be and it’s a great feel good show for all involved.
Kate Monster (Malinda Markland) has a deliriously nasal squeak to her voice, making her comic lines that much more entertaining, and making the switch between goody-two-shoes Kate and the vile voluptuous vixen of Lucy The Slut that much more entertaining. Markland has an incredible belt showcased in both of these characters, first as Lucy in “Special” and then later as Kate in “There’s A Fine, Fine Line.”
The two solo songs could not be more different. Markland has deep sexuality that erupts from Lucy with a hip-rocking, boob shaking attitude that will leave the men howling. And it’s a completely 180 for Kate’s song as she pours her heart out over the sorrows of having loved and lost. Markland makes a sensational addition to this cast of talented performers and is thoroughly enjoyable to watch in both roles.
The show is a laugh-a-minute comedy and to have two characters that then add comic relief to such a show is an extremely tall order but Christmas Eve (Kyra Koh) and Gary Coleman (Nia Smith) live up to this expectation with a flourish and a flare. Koh gives a stunning rendition of “The More You Ruv Someone” in the true stereotyped fashion of a performing girl from World War II Japan. She uses her broken accent to deliver the laughs and will keep the audience on the edge of their seats for the duration of the show.
Smith as the iconic Gary Coleman does the role great justice with her performance. Each line is delivered with the classic high-pitched inflections and when Smith starts singing it blows your mind. Her duet with Nicky (Harrison Smith) in “Schadenfreude” provides vivid imagery and soulful spirit. She is as vocally raunchy as they nasty naughty hot puppet sex that’s happening between Princeton and Kate Monster during “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want,” thrusting those hips and air grinding to give the song that extra pizzazz.
The show favorite is Trekkie Monster (Tim German). He’s every bit the reclusive pervert you expect him to be, and German doesn’t hold back with his great gestures and deep vocal intonations to let the audience know it. Stealing Kate’s thunder in “The Internet Is For Porn” his comic timing in this song is impeccable.
And the show star is Princeton (Colin Hood). Doubling up as the confused kid out of college and the anal-retentive high-strung closeted homosexual, Hood delivers equal parts astonishment to each character, creating two mind-blowing puppets that keep you engaged with their stories from beginning to end. Hood has a pristine voice that carries (even when he lost his mic in the opening of Act II) and packs so much emotion into each of his songs that you’re getting a direct empathy link into his characters’ souls.
Hood is a charmer with Princeton when flirting with Kate monster, and he stirs up the fun during “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” with Gary Coleman. As Rod he’s so overdramatic that you just want to hand him a Prozac. The split between the two characters couldn’t be any more distinctive and Hood ensures at all times that the puppets are completely separate from the way they sound to the way he moves his eyebrows to inflect meaning into his words.
A knockout performance from Hood and the rest of the cast will make your fantasies come true, reminding you that there is life outside your apartment – specifically at The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre where Avenue Q will be playing through the end of this month.
Be sure to check out: The Puppets Do Annapolis a fun little excursion as the puppets of Avenue Q venture to see life outside their apartment at Dockside Annapolis.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Avenue Q plays through July 29, 2012 at The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre -143 Compromise Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-0809 or purchase them online. Several performances are already sold out so booking tickets in advance is encouraged.