These are all struggles that the people and puppets living on Avenue Q face in the comically controversial musical by the same street name playing at Broad Brook Opera House.
There’s innocently kind Kate Monster (Kellie Comer), teacher’s aid for kindergarten teacher Mrs. Thistletwat (Michelle Ortiz-Saltmarsh), who is judged for being a monster and dreams of love and opening a school for monsters. The actress playing her, Comer, had innocence, spunk and a sweet, clear voice.She lives in a building owned by Gary Coleman (Jami Witherell), yes, that Gary Coleman. Her neighbors are an unemployed and struggling 30-something comedian named Brian (Hal Chernoff) and his girlfriend/inevitable wife-to-be Christmas Eve (Sandra W. Lee), a Japanese therapist without clients, closeted business man, Rod (Rodney K.), who claims he has a girlfriend in Canada, his lazy roommate, Nicky (Ryan Pipke) and Trekkie Monster (Pipke), the neighborhood creep who’s obsessed with internet porn.
Then, girl, or in this case monster, meets boy. Princeton (Daniel Dietz). A recent college graduate, an English major, who is searching for his purpose and a job as he starts his life on Avenue Q, where he finds rent to be really, really cheap. No offense.
If racist jokes, porn references, profanity and, well, a puppet sex scene would make you uncomfortable, this might not be the show for you. But if you can handle it, “Avenue Q” certainly isn’t a waste of time and promises non-stop laughter, albeit inappropriate.
It’s basically like a racy, adult Sesame Street without any affiliation to the children’s television show. Rod and Nicky are like Bert and Ernie, resurfacing the questions about whether or not they were gay. Pipke as Trekkie Monster sounds like Cookie Monster, but the only cookies this character might be interested in are digital. There is a trash can that is often kicked, but no Oscar pops out of it. There’s no Big Bird or Snuffy equivalent, but Snuffy was said to be Big Bird’s imaginary friend and in this show the Bad Idea bears (Ortiz-Saltmarsh and Daniel Viets) kind of serve that purpose as Princeton and Kate’s subconscious that push moral boundaries.
Of course, it can’t be paralleled completely to “Sesame Street.” I’m pretty sure no scene in “Sesame Street” would ever have a strip club vibe with a puppet performer named Lucy the Slut (Alysa Auriemma), exuding sex as she sings and dances with a smoky, jazzy quality about making men “feel special.”
However, the show, while written for adults, does take in elements of a children’s show. It’s puppets, so the actors, all dressed in black, create their own unique voices for each character, even if they’re double cast, and they are more emphatically expressive on their faces and their reactions as an extension of the puppets to give us insight into their emotions and personalities. Some puppets took two people to control, like Trekkie and Nicky, and in those cases both actors would react. Any kid’s show needs heightened energy and that is something that this adult production excels at.
Some of the actors would look at the other actors while delivering lines and others would look at the puppets, which could be confusing, but I appreciated that the actors also assumed their puppets’ characters.
Rodney K. had the energy and spot-on character voice to breathe comedy into the ever “straight”-laced Rod that helped you see his masked layers. Pipke voiced two characters – Trekkie Monster and Nicky – and did both in a distinct way and one of the most powerful voices in the production.Lee was another standout as Christmas Eve, excelling with her high-pitched accent and very memorable vocals.
The original play doesn’t have many ensemble roles written into it, so I admired the way this production worked in background characters to add depth in the form of extra puppets as passersby, singing boxes (Tina Sparkle, Viets and Ortiz-Saltmarsh) and a go-go dancer (Sparkle). Viets played Ricky, a prospect just like Nicky for Rod, and Sparkle plays a no-nonsense newcomer looking at an apartment at Avenue Q.
The show also implements the use of childlike video animations with adult themes in the plays on words whether it’s flipping “purpose” to “prupose” during a wedding, a heart rate monitor that blips like breasts and counting the number of nightstands to say “one night stand.” There were some issues with delays, audio levels and static when the videos were integrated into the flow of the story, however the intent was appreciated.
Many of you are probably searching for your own purpose and sense of self and “Avenue Q” really delves into those complex, sometimes taboo, themes like sexual orientation, fantasies, vices and struggles with paying rent or making a living. A lot of people will be able to relate to those topics and the messages and evolution a lot of the characters experience will speak to many audience members. So, even if you don’t know your purpose, you don’t need it to come see the show and for one night or afternoon forget it sucks to be you. Hopefully it doesn’t, of course, but that escape and awakening of your inner child is kind of nice.
“Avenue Q” runs through Feb. 21 at the Broad Brook Opera House at 107 Main Street in Broad Brook, Connecticut. For ticket information, visit smplayers.homestead.com.