Manhattan's fictitious Avenue Q might be a rundown thoroughfare but Theatre Downtown's production of the Broadway musical "Avenue Q" is top-notch all the way from A to Z and back again.
It's the first locally produced production of Tony-winning "Avenue Q," and director Steve MacKinnon has set the bar sky high for future endeavors.
A decidedly adult musical comedy, "Avenue Q" uses puppets to highlight the travails of being 20-something and experiencing the first pitfalls of adulthood. The story unfolds in the style of children's TV show "Sesame Street," with catchy jingles and lessons in counting (One nightstand) and vocabulary ("Schadenfreude" means taking pleasure at the misfortune of others.)
The puppeteers are visible alongside their furry counterparts, and it takes a special kind of magic to maintain the whimsical style of the storytelling alongside the grounded-in-reality plot twists.
This production has that magic in spades.
The puppets, designed by Russ Walko, are gosh-darn adorable. The music by Tony winners Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx wears its heart on its sleeve, honing in on the emotional state of young adults: a lack of direction, feeling old at 23.
And because people fundamentally stay the same, the sly humor (that so often hits close to home) remains funny nearly a decade after the show's debut: "Everybody's a Little Bit Racist," "The Internet is for Porn."
Music director Spencer Crosswell's hidden six-piece band hits just the right balance of full sound without overpowering the actors.
Onstage, J.W. Moore's rubbery face delightfully mimics his puppets' expressions, and his voice and manner make hopeful Princeton and uptight Rod distinct and equally funny characters. Christina Montgomery is an overstereotyped stitch as Japan-born Christmas Eve, and unleashes a mighty set of pipes on the very funny "The More You Ruv Someone."
Scott Silson, crinkling up his face, veers funnily between growly and dopey as Trekkie and Nicky. Kendra Lynn Lucas is perfectly self-deprecating as a familiar down-on-his- (yes his) luck child actor, and also whips out a strong singing voice (along with a brilliant smile).
Sarah Daniels makes a cute-as-a-button Kate, especially when she works up a frowny face, and David Brescia makes henpecked Brian less a sad sack, more an everyman Joe.
Jamie Donmoyer, who did a superb job as the show's puppeteering director, is a whirlwind on stage, playing several smaller roles and literally lending a hand wherever needed.
OK, I could nitpick: Occasionally, an actor fails to pause for a laugh so the guffawing audience misses the next line (a nice problem to have); Daniels could use a bit more vocal differentiation between Kate and Lucy; MacKinnon tries so hard to use the large stage that a few scenes end up in the far corners, obscuring sight lines.
But these barely register in a show so filled with loving details. The "Sesame Street"-like set, designed by Tim DeBaun, perfectly gets across the idea that this neighborhood is affordable for a fresh-out-of-college kid: a board or two covers a broken upstairs window, ragged insulation surrounds an air-conditioning unit. There's even a nifty nearby New York City subway entrance — served of course by the Q train.
email@example.com or 407-420-5038
•What: 'Avenue Q,' Tony-winning adult musical comedy
•Length: 2:20 with intermission
•Where: Theatre Downtown, 2113 N. Orange Ave., Orlando
•When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 18 and 25 and Oct. 2; through Oct. 8
•Tickets: $22; $18 students and seniors
•Call: 407-841-0083Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times