Arts & Culture

Review: Cast, puppets blend seamlessly in ‘Avenue Q’

An ensemble cast blends live action and puppets in the adult comedy “Avenue Q” at Lakewood Playhouse.
An ensemble cast blends live action and puppets in the adult comedy “Avenue Q” at Lakewood Playhouse. Courtesy

“Avenue Q” is an edgy adult comedy billed by Lakewood Playhouse as “ ‘Sesame Street’ Grows Up And Moves to ‘South Park.’ ” Originally conceived as a television show, it is presented in the style of a children’s show with puppets and catchy songs.

But, unlike the former and more like the latter, the themes are definitely adult-only. So is much of the language. There is even a scene with simulated sex by puppets stage right while actors and other puppets stage left sing a loud and rousing “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want When You’re Makin’ Love.”

Other clever songs include: “It Sucks to Be Me,” “If You Were Gay,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” and “The Internet is for Porn.”

Two of the main characters, who may or may not be gay, are roommates Rod (Kyle Sinclair) and Nicky (Derek Hall), who are unmistakable takeoffs on Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street.” Trekkie Monster (also Hall) has a voice that is a whole lot like his namesake, Cookie Monster. The landlord of the apartment on Avenue Q is none other than former child star Gary Coleman (not a puppet but live actor Tony L. Williams,). And a very slutty Lucy (Taylor Davis) is a cross between Miss Piggy and Mae West.

All puppets are operated on stage by actors in full view of the audience. Director Victoria Webb credits puppet master Lance Woolen with “making the puppets come to life.”

I also credit the actors for disappearing into their puppets in the sense that they both act their parts and make the puppets act their parts. The combination of acting and puppeteering is amazing to watch.

Some of the puppets take two actors to operate, and there appear to be some fast swapping of who is operating which puppets. For example, there was one point when Davis clearly exited the stage, and yet within seconds I saw her on stage operating a puppet that I believe Kayla Crawford had been operating moments before. I never saw the swap, and it happened so fast that now I’m not sure I saw what I thought I saw. There was a lot of that kind of thing going on, so pay attention.

Also acting (not with a puppet) is Conner Brown as Brian the building superintendent whose dream is to be a standup comic and JasminRae Onggao Lazaroo (also no puppet) as Brian’s partner, Christmas Eve. Rounding out the cast are Kate Monster (Davis), Mrs. T. and Bad Idea Bear (Crawford), and Princeton (Sinclair).

The story is that of young adults fresh out of college trying to find their way in the world while wrestling with issues of love, sex, finding their purpose in life, and how to make a living and pay the rent.

The ensemble cast is made up of newcomers to Lakewood Playhouse, all of whom are either making their debut there or for whom this is their second show at the Playhouse. They do an excellent job of both acting and puppeteering in roles that must be technically challenging.

I can easily imagine how hilarious and how shocking “Avenue Q” must have been when it debuted on Broadway in 2004 (winner of the Tony Award “triple crown”: Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book). It must have been as astounding as “Hair” or “Saturday Night Live” when they first appeared. Not so shocking for today’s audiences, “Avenue Q” is still funny. The tunes are catchy, it is surprisingly sweet, and the social commentary is still relevant.

Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.

Avenue Q

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 3.

Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood.

Tickets: $24-$29, pay-what-you-will actors’ benefit June 16.

Information: 253-588-0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org.

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