Avenue Q

Porn addict: Trekkie Monster (with Minglie Chen and Christian Anderson)
Carol Rosegg 2007

Calling all Gen-X, Y and Zers. Many Muppets have grown up and moved off of Sesame Street. They now reside in Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty's Avenue Q, the 2004 Tony Award-winning, hysterically funny musical about a young college graduate trying to find himself in the big city. That the central character is a muppety puppet is only half the fun. There're also all those songs about sex and porn and racism. And for those not in the know, there's apparently nothing hotter than puppet sex, as revealed in a riotously funny bedroom scene.

The story starts when Princeton (Robert McClure) arrives on Ave. Q, the only street he can afford in New York City. He's just gotten a B.A. in English and doesn't know what to do with himself. More than anything, he wants to find his "purpose" in life. And the big city is apparently just the place to figure that out.

The rundown version of Sesame Street is home to a whole slew of characters, some puppet and some not. Non-­puppet characters include Brian (Cole Porter), a wannabe comedian; his fiancée Christmas Eve (Angela Ai), a therapist who doesn't have any clients; and, weirdly enough, child star Gary Coleman (Carla Renata), who's now a building superintendent on Ave. Q. The humans are every bit as kooky as the puppets, who include Trekkie Monster (David Benoit), who lives for porn, and Lucy the Slut (Kelli Sawyer), who wears her dresses cut down to there. It's the perfect group of oddballs to teach anyone — puppet or otherwise — a thing or two about what it means to be a grown up.


Avenue Q

Through November 4. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2500.

Once Princeton gets moved in, he falls for Kate Monster (Kelli Sawyer). They spend a bone-bending, screaming night of love in Kate's bed while Gary Coleman sings "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)," with the Bad Idea Bears, two squeaky-voiced, pastel-colored teddy bears who tell Prince­ton to misbehave whenever he's feeling down, singing backup.

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The Bad Idea Bears (Minglie Chen and David Benoit) get to the heart of what makes this show so fabulous — it's all that naughty irony. Avenue Q is a Sesame Street for adults, full of advice and lessons that only big people learn. When the Bad Idea Bears enthusiastically encourage Princeton to buy himself not a six pack, but a whole case of beer, they sound just like they're applauding him for learning a brand new word. When the whole cast sings about racism, it's not to say how wrong it is, but to celebrate the fact that "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." Everyone makes judgments based on race, goes the song, "just little judgments, like thinking that Mexican busboys should learn to speak goddamn English!" The show teaches the audience a grownup word — Schadenfreude, "some kind of Nazi word" that means taking pleasure in other people's pain. And even the plot twists on an adult issue — porn — which gets a whole song in "The Internet Is for Porn."

Of course, all Princeton's problems are adult size. After his night with Kate, he starts to wonder if maybe she's distracting him from finding his "purpose," so he does what lots of adults do — he bails on her even though they clearly get along great. Meanwhile, Nicky (David Benoit) and Rod (Robert McClure), two longtime roommates who live next door, are having troubles. Nicky thinks Rod might be gay and sings, "If you were gay, that'd be okay." Rod, a Republican, gets defensive. He even makes up a girlfriend in the song "My Girl Friend, Who Lives in Canada" to cover his tracks. But he has dreams about Nicky and can't stop his feelings. Then there are Christmas Eve and Brian. Tired of being a fiancée, she's pressuring him to set the date.

All these stories add up to a very charming night of theater performed by a razor-sharp cast. All the actors who play puppets perform multiple roles, and they do so with seamless grace, sometimes performing two different voices in one scene. Anna Louizos's set takes from Sesame Street; the buildings open up to some great NYC apartments. And Jason Moore and Ken Roberson's direction and choreography capture all the moves from children's television and tweak them in deliciously naughty ways.

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