I suspect the answer is puppets can get away with doing things on stage real actors can’t without being arrested or lynched. Avenue Q (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty) pushes the envelope and then some. It’s also hilarious.
A raunchy riff on Sesame Street, the setting is a street in front of an old apartment block, where a mix of very Muppet-like puppets with human characters, songs and video vignettes illustrate life lessons for the audience.
But it also offers storylines that tap into the anxieties of most adults, and especially those who’ve reached adulthood in the 2000s: paying bills, navigating relationships, and trying to find work.
The character Princeton is a recent college grad looking for purpose in his life. Kate Monster dreams of starting a school for young monsters. Rod and Nicky (clear copies of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie) are buddies and roommates, but one of them wants the relationship to be more.
Unlike Muppet shows and movies, the puppeteers of Avenue Q are clearly visible.
Although the audience is expected to ignore them, that’s not always easy to do — you might find yourself watching both flesh and felt — but it’s not a serious distraction. Theatre always requires some suspension of disbelief anyway.
All of the cast does a great job, but I have to give special mention to Blair Irwin, capturing both the innocent earnestness of Kate Monster and the flamboyant seductiveness of nightclub singer Lucy The Slut.
Kimmy Choi also does a great job portraying a blatant Asian stereotype, yet with inner sensitivity and compassion.
Hats off, too, to the offstage musicians who provide the live score with total professionalism.
The songs from Lopez and Marx wickedly take on every sensitive subject, from sex and homosexuality, to racism, to the inexplicable pleasure we get from the pain of others.
Catchy tunes extoll “It Sucks To Be Me,” “Everybody’s A Little Bit Racist,” and speculate about “If You Were Gay.”
Political correctness is nowhere to be seen, but you will see puppets having sex and using foul language, so check your sensitivity at the door. If you can do that, you’ll have a lot of fun. If not, stay away.
The show is not recommended for anyone under the age of 16, and even that might be on the low side.
One thing’s for sure — you’ll never be able to watch Sesame Street quite the same way again.
Avenue Q plays at the Sudbury Theatre Centre through May 16. The box office number is 705-674-8381 x21 or go online to www.sudburytheatre.ca .
Scott Overton co-hosts the morning show on Rewind 103.9 and is the author of the thriller Dead Air. He writes theatre reviews for Northern Life.