Opening Nights: Avenue Q

It's like the dark alley behind Sesame Street.

Ah—gratuitous nudity, graphic sex, toilet humor, and pervasive cynicism. Balagan's homegrown take on the hit puppet musical is perfectly timed for the holidays. The Tony Award–winning 2003 show is a foul-mouthed lampoon of Sesame Street and The Electric Company, stripped of all nutritional/educational content and targeted at a generation that grew up in front of the TV. You'll be either aghast or amused as all those childhood lessons and dewy-eyed PBS promises of a brighter tomorrow are gleefully trashed.

For starters, your degree is worthless ("What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?"), there's no such thing as a colorblind society ("Everyone's a Little Bit Racist"), and peaceful coexistence is a myth ("The more you love someone," one song opines, "the more you want to kill them").

In his new neighborhood, recent grad Princeton (Heathcliff Saunders) discovers that people interact with magical felt creatures (controlled by cast members who may or may not be voicing their characters). In this purgatory, a parallel world to Sesame Street, Gary Coleman of Diff'rent Strokes (Rashawn Scott) has been reduced to being the building's super after his parents absconded with all that Hollywood cash.

Sharing the tenement are an aspiring comic (Danny Kam), his Asian fianceé Christmas Eve (Diana Huey), a closeted Republican and his straight roomie (Justin Huertas and Brian Lange), a hermetic monster addicted to the Internet (Robert Scherzer), and a kindergarten teaching assistant named Kate Monster (Kirsten deLohr Helland). In this blessedly musical romp, the songs move the scant love story along. Princeton falls for Lucy the Slut (Kate Jaeger), while Kate falls afoul of her teaching mentor Mrs. Thistletwat (Jaeger again) after a night of binge drinking and hot puppet sex. (Is there any other kind?)

Director Eric Ankrim has polished the performances to a sparkling sheen, so that even when the show isn't funny, it's surprisingly tender and tuneful (thanks to composers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; Jeff Whitty wrote the book). Years ago in Vegas, we took my 70- something mother-in-law to Avenue Q, not really knowing what to expect. We knew it wasn't for kids, but did she? At first, she sat stonily with jaw clenched. But when I looked more closely, her eyes were twinkling with delight. She was forcing herself not to laugh, because well-mannered ladies aren't supposed to go in for such bawdy fare. Avenue Q will defy you not to like it. And it will win.

 
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