Like my best friend Dolores said, “It’s Sesame Street gone bad!” That’s the perfect way to describe the Tony-award winning musical Avenue Q. Set in a nondescript neighborhood in New York City, AQ is the brain child of Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty. It’s part children’s show mixed in with the harsh realties of life. The puppets and the person behind pulling the strings are both hysterical and disturbing to watch. It’s bad enough going through the daily grind of life but when it’s seen through a puppet’s eye it’s down right hilarious with a huge grain of truth in the center.
Princeton (voiced by David Colston Corris) is a new graduate out into the world. He’s anxious to find work and find purpose in his life. Who didn’t as a college graduate? He gets a little boost when he finds a penny and keeps it for good luck. He’s going to need it. It comes in handy later in the show. Armed with a B. A. in English, Princeton goes down the alphabetical neighborhood block, beginning with Avenue A, in search of his first apartment. When he reaches Avenue Q, he is both elated and disappointed when he sees the run-down apartment building run by former TV child actor Gary Coleman (wonderfully played by Anita Welch). Barely living there five minutes, Princeton gets involved in a love quagmire. He meets fellow tenant, the furry Kate Monster (the talented Ashley Eileen Bucknam) a kindergarten teaching assistant who dreams of running her own school for monsters. In Kate, he sees a potential soul mate but is too shy to admit it. He finds physical comfort in the arms of va-va voomlicious lounge singer, Lucy the Slut (also voiced by Bucknam). Bucknam sets ups two distinct voices and personalities between the two women. It’s hard to believe that Kate and Lucy are performed by the same person. Corris also does the voice of hard-core Republican Rod. He could be Sesame Street’s brother Bert only with glasses and a Brooks Brother suit. His friend Nicky (Michael Liscio, Jr.) looks a lot like Bert’s long-time friend Ernie. I sense a pattern here.
The only two puppets-less people is the soon-to-be-married couple Brian (Tim Kornblum) and his excitable wife Christmas Eve (Lisa Helmi Johansson) who has a unique style of dressing. They have the type of relationship that appears totally dysfunctional at a glance but it’s clear they truly deserve one another. Brian is non-working comic and Christmas Eve is a massage therapist with no clients. You gotta watch the show to understand how this makes sense. It is here that the song “It Sucks to be Me” fits in perfectly. The songs in this production are vividly and brutally honest. There’s “If You Were Gay,” sung by Nicky and Rod,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” with Princeton, Kate, Gary, Brian, and Christmas Eve and the most memorable, well, there all memorable, “The Internet Is for Porn” – Kate, Trekkie Monster, Brian, Gary Coleman, Rod, and Princeton.
Trekkie Monster has to be Cookie Monster’s long-lost cousin. You know the relative that we all have in our family but keep him away from the public. That’s Trekkie! His song received a thunderous applause from the audience. I just keep thinking, “This is not the way puppets should act.” No it isn’t but it makes it all the fun to watch.
The two characters you want far away from you as possible are the Bad Idea Bears (Kerri Brackin). These two evil forces are the motivation for people to do stupid things. After another tiff with Princeton, Kate gets a huge nudge from the Bears to take up drinking—potent Long Island Iced Teas. These bears also encourage Princeton to buy, not one or a 6-pack, but a case of beer. He doesn’t even have a job and he’s two months behind in rent. But, then again, chugging some (or even a lot of) beer might help. If not, it sure feels necessary until you sober up. The Bears continue to wreck havoc onto others. They are the little voice in our heads that tell us to do something wrong when common sense has checked out.
You will be shocked, surprised and maybe traumatized but you will leave laughing until it hurts.
Avenue Q runs until Sunday, March 6, Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. at the Pantages Theater located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard. For tickets and information visit www.broadwayla.org