Theatre Review: ‘Avenue Q’ at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

Cast taking a car ride. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

“If you brought your kids, you’re a bad parent,” Tim German says to nervous laughter at the beginning of this production of Avenue Q, directed by Darnell Morris.

Leave the kids at home, folks—this one’s for the adults!

As it’s been loosely described by creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Avenue Q is the puppet show for those of us who grew up with Sesame Street and the Muppets and found we still needed cotton-filled friends helping us with the adult lessons in life.

Princeton (Colin Hood), a twenty-three-year-old fresh college graduate, finds when he comes to Avenue Q that life is so much harder than it seemed it would be in college! “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” he asks of the characters he meets in his building, one of whom is “Gary Coleman” (Nia Smith), the super. Avenue Q is populated by people who are “just a little unsatisfied” and still waiting to find their purpose in life, including Kate Monster, Princeton’s soon-to-be girlfriend.

Trekkie Monster (Tim German) Princeton (Colin Hood) and Kate Monster (Malinda Markland). Photo courtesy of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Despite this running theme, which resonates with many adults, Avenue Q hardly takes itself-and most things-seriously. Tackling themes such as racism, sex, and the rarity of true generosity, it reminds us that it’s the simple things in life that matter, and every problem that comes our way is “only for now.” Avenue Q is known for saying those things that many people don’t say in polite conversation, but that nonetheless ring true, things such as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” and that uproarious crowd-pleaser, “The Internet is for Porn.” Finally, though, it points us back to the relationships we have with others and how they can ultimately give us a sense of purpose when everything else seems so uncertain.

This production at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre is both ambitious and impressive. The music is vocally demanding, as the numbers often have a snappy gospel or jazzy feel; and all of the vocalists, who had to sing both well and in the character of their puppets, did a wonderful job. I was especially appreciative of all the work that must have been done to help these actors manage their multiple jobs—puppeteering, dancing, acting, and singing all together, with some puppets requiring more than one actor to manage!

Tackling themes such as racism, sex, and the rarity of true generosity, it reminds us that it’s the simple things in life that matter, and every problem that comes our way is “only for now.”

Several actors also played multiple puppets, even switching with each other.
Leads Hood and Markland are enjoyable to listen to, with strong, clear voices that get the humorous lyrics across easily. Kyra Koh is loveable as Christmas Eve, and Harrison Smith hilarious as Nicky. I especially appreciated how he made the character his own.  Nia Smith also did a great job, capturing Gary Coleman’s mannerism perfectly.

Princeton (Colin Hood). Photo courtesy of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Anastasia Sophia Herne and Henry Pazaryna are memorable and fun as the Bad Idea Bears, with Herne also taking over for Lucy or Kate Monster at times. Ruben Vellekoop is likeable, if a little goofy, as Brian, a great character who has been around the block just a few more times than Princeton. Finally, Tim German, who is also the puppeteer consultant for the show, portrays the delightfully perverted Trekkie Monster The production seemed to benefit greatly from his help and energy.

The production design was also pretty top-notch, and I was especially impressed by the detail and work put in this colorful, outdoor setting of backstreets New York. Some humorous surprises via video screen added flavor to the show, with references made to Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and other shows that were popular in the same era.

Avenue Q is a great time, and a must-see for adults of all walks of life. Many audience members clearly came in knowing a lot of the songs already—and they do have a way of staying with you. And for those audience members who didn’t know any of the songs, I am certain they were humming them long after the show was over.

But remember, as the German says, if you bring the kids, you’re a bad parent; this one’s just for you!

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 min. with one intermission.

Advisory:  This show contains profanity, puppet nudity, and adult subject matter and is not appropriate for children.

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.