From left, Ruben Vellekoop (Brian), Malinda Markland (holding… (Photo for The Baltimore…)
Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre looks to have a sure hit in "Avenue Q," a 2004 triple Tony Award winner for best musical, best score and best book.
Running through July 29, this musical featuring a cast of puppets and actors comically dealing with perplexing issues is an ideal choice for the theater's outdoor venue.
While aware this R-rated puppet show might raise a few eyebrows, the ASGT board had confidence in its merit and potential appeal. Although politically incorrect, songs like "If You Were Gay," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "The Internet is for Porn" are also fresh and appealing, and slanted to theater-goers who grew up with "Sesame Street."
"Avenue Q" has the distinction of being among the longest-running Broadway shows at more than 3,500 performances, ranking ahead of "Grease" and "42nd Street."
Judging by the large number of 18- to 30-year-olds in the opening night audience, "Avenue Q" should continue to draw young audiences to a show that relates to the experiences grappling with major transitions when reaching adulthood.
"I am extremely honored to have directed such a bold piece of theater for my third production with ASGT," said Darnell Morris, who also directed "Hairspray" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
He's clearly up to the unusual challenge of directing 11 puppets and the nine actors who speak and sing for the them, as well as the skilled puppeteers behind the scenes. Morris has help from master puppeteer Tim German, who trained the other puppeteers, all surprisingly unobtrusive on stage, and Nicole Martin, who choreographed their movements so that each character is a complete entity.
German also provides the voice for Trekkie Monster — a porn-addicted version of Cookie Monster, giving him weird appeal as he extols the seamier side of the Internet.
Musical director Joshua Konick, an ASGT newcomer, handles this challenging assignment flawlessly; his extensive choir experience helps draw splendid harmonies from the chorus as well as spectacular solos from cast members.
Among strong lead performances is the dual one by Colin Hood. Hood, a law school student, plays unemployed college grad Princeton, who moves into a shabby apartment on Avenue Q, as well as nervous neighbor/closeted gay Republican Rod. Hood delivers complete portraits of two opposite characters with the right mix of emotions in every song.
Equally impressive in a leading role is Malinda Markland, who plays girl-next-door/idealistic kindergarten teacher Kate Monster and sexy nightclub performer Lucy Slut. Markland, as Kate, ends Act 1 by singing "There's a Fine, Fine Line," reflecting on her relationship with Princeton, after heating up the stage as Lucy in the song "Special."
The latter sets the next scene's "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want," sung by a company chorus and accompanying a choreographed frantic puppet orgy that is this show's hysterical peak.
Sans puppet, Kyra Koh plays Christmas Eve, a therapist without clients because her heavy Japanese accent makes her advice indecipherable. Koh delivers a show-stopping "The More You Ruv Someone" ("The more you love someone, the more you wish to kill him") and proves the perfect foil for partner Brian (Ruben Vellekoop), an aspiring stand-up comedian who later becomes her husband.
Based on the late child star Gary Coleman, the role of apartment-building superintendent is played by Nia Simone Smith, who creates a sadly realistic adult Coleman. Smith leads the raucous chorus in "As Loud as You Want" and delivers a fabulous duet with Nicky (Harrison Smith) in the strangely amusing "Schadenfreude," in which they savor the misfortunes of others.
All the songs are brightly delivered by the entire cast, adept at giving life to their puppet characters to make us care about them. These puppets force us to laugh at ourselves, liberating us for 21/2 hours of theater magic.
This show offers much to theater-goers who can appreciate outrageous, often raunchy humor. And "Avenue Q" provides a bonus to older generations by providing insight into problems children and grandchildren may be confronting.
This show will not appeal to traditionalists or to those offended by politically incorrect humor. ASGT cautions that this show is not for young children because of subject matter and language.
Based on the fact that some future performances are already sold out or nearly so, ASGT suggests ordering tickets in advance by going to summergarden.com and then to http://www.annapolistickets.com or calling the box office at 410-268-9212.