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Theatre, Music, etc.


January 11, 2008

When puppets grow up

The once-adorable characters learn about gritty adult life on Avenue Q

There are many things that Jim Henson taught us through the iconic PBS show Sesame Street. Sharing is a good thing, for instance; fighting is bad, and one should always turn the other cheek.

In many ways, Sesame Street is a lost gospel of Jesus, one involving Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Bert and Ernie, Kermit the Frog, and many other unqualifiable creatures who never seem discomfited by the hand up their posteriors.

What the show didn’t prepare its audiences for, however, is life after college. Come to think of it, the Bible also doesn’t have much on the pitfalls of the internet, what to do with a bachelor’s degree in English, or how to get a burlesque dancer out of a coma after she’s been hit in the head with a penny falling from the top of the Empire State Building.

Perhaps that’s in one of the apocryphal texts.

In the meantime, humans and puppets are living together in conflict and disharmony over on Avenue Q. The Tony Award-winning musical is coming to Cleveland and Columbus on its first national tour, four or five years after debuting off-Broadway.

Avenue Q centers on Princeton, a recent college graduate moving into a down-and-out neighborhood of New York City. It’s the only area he can afford, and the only apartment available is in a building populated by the strangest characters.

There’s Kate Monster, a kindergarten assistant teacher; Trekkie Monster (no relation, you racist!), who is addicted to internet porn; Rod and Nicky, a closeted gay Republican investment banker and his slacker roommate; Christmas Eve and Brian, a couple engaged to be married, and Gary Coleman, the building’s superintendent, whose embrace of schadenfreude means he is often less than sympathetic to his tenants’ hard luck.

In Coleman’s defense, if you had been the top child star of the early 1980s and are now the super of a crappy apartment building, wouldn’t you take just a little delight in your neighbors’ troubles?

If the main characters in the musical aren’t enough to hook even the most Broadway-adverse reader, the supporting cast is even more outrageous: Mrs. Thistletwat, Kate’s boss; Lucy the Slut, the aforementioned burlesque dancer, and the Bad Idea Bears, two adorable moppets (I said moppets--no copyright infringement) who serve little purpose other than to ensure that Princeton and his neighbors make the wrong decisions, which lead to fun in the short run and misery later.

For instance, when Mrs. Thistletwat tells Kate that she is going in for heart replacement surgery and Miss Monster will have a free hand in class the next day, Kate tries to prepare a lesson plan on the internet. But she is told by pretty much everyone, in a hilarious song, that “The Internet is for Porn.” The Bad Idea Bears step in as she and Princeton are out later that evening, urging her to order some Long Island iced teas.

Needless to say, class does not go well for her the next day.

Thankfully, the puppet sex is a little more imaginative (although one assumes in fewer positions) than that in the film Team America: World Police. It’s also louder, leading to Coleman’s song, “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love).”

With an accomplished cast, many of whom worked on the Broadway production, Avenue Q is fun for children of all ages--as long as they’re teenagers or older.

Of course, some parents might want to teach their eight-year-olds about sex, drinking and pornography through the use of satire and puppetry, but one suspects Dr. Spock would not approve.

The Palace Theater in Cleveland will host Avenue Q from January 15 to 27, and it will be at Columbus’ Palace Theater (no relation) on April 8 to 13. For more information, or to buy tickets, go to



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