Matthew Reddin

Joy and laughter, brought to you by the letter “Q”

The Skylight's "Avenue Q" brings great skill and joy to the Broadway Theatre Center.

By - Sep 22nd, 2012 12:44 pm

The cast of “Avenue Q” features a mix of puppet and human actors. Photo credit Mark Frohna.

For a fun, no-regrets piece of theater — provided you don’t mind a little cursing, drinking and full-frontal puppet nudity — get to the Skylight Music Theatre’s Avenue Q, the Off-Broadway smash that applies the method of Sesame Street and to the madness of post-college life.

You read that right: Avenue Q (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; book by Jeff Whitty) is a riff on the beloved children’s show Sesame Street, with most of the characters rod or hand puppets. The play’s actors take turns with each puppet, voicing the same characters throughout regardless of who’s puppeteering at the moment.

The play follows Princeton (Ben Durocher), a recent college grad who moves to “Avenue Q,” a hyper-low-budget extension of New York’s Alphabet City. There he meets his new friends: Bert and Ernie types Nicky (Jason Jacoby) and Rod (Durocher), perverted upstairs neighbor Trekkie Monster (Jacoby), non-puppet fiancés Brian (Rick Pendzich) and Christmas Eve (Maya Naff), building super Gary Coleman (Tiffany Yvonne Cox as, yes, that Gary Coleman), the Bad Idea Bears (Jacoby and Alison Mary Forbes) and the beautiful Kate Monster (Kate Margaret McCann). Princeton quickly falls for Kate.

Avenue Q resembles an episode of children’s programming, with life-lesson vignettes sprinkled throughout the play. But these are adult lessons, with such musical numbers as “The Internet is for Porn,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “There is Life Outside Your Apartment.” Instead learning colors or letters or how to share (okay, there’s a little of that last one), characters struggle with coming out of the closet, sexual dynamics and unemployment.

The results are extraordinary. Aside from some slight over-cartooning from the human actors at the start of the show (quickly corrected), the Skylight’s cast, stage/music-directed by Donna Drake and Jamie Johns, respectively, is pitch-perfect. Considering the brunt of the cast is expected to sing, talk and dance as both themselves and as a puppet simultaneously – and sometimes two puppets in the same scene – that’s an enormous achievement.

Kate Margaret McCann (R) shines as Lucy the Slut (depicted) and Kate Monster. Photo credit Mark Frohna.

McCann merits special mention. She plays both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, Princeton’s lust interest. As Lucy, she performs a cabaret song, “Special,” that she somehow makes seductive and slimy, all at once. She goes all out with “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” the show’s primary ballad, with a fiery intensity that is nothing short of astounding.

From an acting perspective, Naff steals the show as Christmas Eve, a walking Asian stereotype complete with r/l letter swapping. She commands attention whether she’s dispensing questionable therapeutic advice to Rod or beating Brian to the glass-breaking at their Jewish-Japanese wedding.

The cast has as much fun as you, maybe more. They exude pure joy to be onstage, and even if they’re just faking to match the show’s cutesy ambiance, it’s convincing — and contagious. Seeing a cast that glad to be alive and onstage –if only “For Now” – is to share in their joy.

Avenue Q, also featuring Samantha Sostarich and James Nathan, runs through Oct. 14 at the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center. Tickets are $23.50 to $65.50, and can be ordered at (414) 291-7800 or at the Skylight’s online box office.

Don’t miss anything! Bookmark our comprehensive TCD Guide to the 2012-13 Season. Sponsored by the Florentine Opera.

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