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Lightning in a bottle

Michael Pulliam

Flawless ‘Avenue Q’ is hottest ticket in town.

Every once in awhile Maui’s theater companies offer up something extraordinary. Past examples that come to mind are the Maui Academy of Performing Arts’ “Les Miserables” and Maui OnStage’s “Chicago.”

I call it lightning in a bottle. ProArts “Avenue Q” is a flawless work of genius on par with a national touring production. Masterfully helmed by Director David Belew and veteran professional “Avenue Q” Puppet Coach Stephie Garrett, this smash-hit production at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei is the hottest ticket in town and the must-see show of the season.

“It’s one of those shows where the laughs start even before the lights come up, and they don’t stop until the end,” Belew shared two weeks ago in Backstage.

In reality, the smiles begin during the pre-show as nostalgic video creations by Ally Shore delight with excerpts from “H.R. Pufnstuf,” “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Schoolhouse Rock,” “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company” and many more.

Leading the impeccable performances of this seven-person ensemble cast is Logan Heller, who voices both Princeton and Rod, and Kathryn Holtkamp, as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut.

Heller’s loveable Princeton, a starry-eyed recent college graduate struggling to find his purpose is the newcomer to “Avenue Q.” After renting a Manhattan flat, where Gary Coleman (Barron Burton) is the superintendent, Princeton is immediately introduced to longtime single Kate by neighbor Christmas Eve (Lina Krueger). Both Burton and Krueger, along with Kiegan Otterson who plays Christmas Eve’s fiance, Brian, are human characters that interact with the puppets as if they were human too. They elicit recurring fits of laughter in embracing their racially stereotyped roles with appropriate over-the-top portrayals.

On “The More You Ruv Someone,” Krueger laments, “The more you ruv someone / the more you want to kill ’em. / Ruving and killing / fit like hand in glove!”

Otterson’s employment-challenged Brian imparts, “I’m not wearing underwear today,” to which Krueger exclaims, “Get a job!”

Holtkamp voices two distinctly contradictory puppets and frequently responds to herself. While Kate sweetly pines for Princeton, Lucy boasts in the song “Special,” “When we’re together / The earth will shake / And the stars will fall / Into the sea. / So come on, baby, / Let down your guard. / When your date’s in / The bathroom, / I’ll slip you my card.”

The hardest-working cast member is Marsi Smith, who in addition to playing Kate’s boss, Mrs. Thistletwat, stealthily maneuvers puppets throughout the show, becoming the animator when Holtkamp and Heller switch to take on a different puppet and voice.

The Bad Idea Bears (Smith and Shore) set up many of the most uproarious scenes in “Q” — like their suggestion to Princeton of getting Kate Monster “wasted” so he can have sex with her, followed by Burton’s serenade of, “You can be as loud as / The hell you want / When you’re making love.”

Shore triples in the production as the porn-addicted Trekkie Monster (think an R-rated Oscar the Grouch) and Nicky, roommate to Rod. Indicative of Bert and Ernie, Heller’s Rod is a deeply closeted gay Republican, to whom Shore melodically advises, “If you were gay / That’d be okay / I mean ’cause, hey / I’d like you anyway.”

ProArts asks on its “Avenue Q” poster, “What if ‘Sesame Street’ had the same attitude as ‘South Park?’ “ — a perfect summary for this irreverent musical comedy. It’s no coincidence that co-composer Robert Lopez went on to team up with “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on the equally successful “The Book of Mormon,” and those that enjoy that brand of humor will adore “Q.”

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