Sesame Street Grows Up And Moves Down to Avenue Q
If you grew up on the PBS stalwart Sesame Street,then the musical Avenue Q, as brilliantly realized by Music Theater Works and now on view at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, might be a surrealistic experience of alarming familiarity:It is as if your favorite kindergarten teacher has become your coach and sex therapist.
I have to admit I was a bit freaked out as I entered NSCPA because there were many children coming from the parking lot and I was a consenting adult going to a show that stated full puppet frontal nudity: THIS IS NOT A SHOW FOR CHILDREN, even if the puppets very definitely resemble the iconic characters of the long running children's show. Luckily all those youngsters were headed to the other venue in the building. Watching a show, where I found myself wondering if puppets needed an intimacy choreographer, would have been awkward to say the least if there were younger and more sensitive viewers in the house.
Avenue Q is a coming of age tale: Princeton (a puppet) moves into an apartment managed by Gary Coleman (yes that Gary, and a human) and falls in love with Kate Monster (a puppet), breaks up, gets back together, hangs out with closeted gay neighbor Ron(a puppet), socializes with real humans Brian and Christmas Eve (a Japanese American therapist with no clients) and puppet Trekkie Monster who is addicted to porn. Protagonist Princeton is on a quest for his life’s purpose after graduating from college with a BA in English. The songs are catchy and humorous social commentary. From “It Sucks to Be Me” to “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” to “I wish I could go back to college” there are spot on observations about life as a human in the city who has dreams that have yet to come true.
Director/choreographer Christopher Pazdernik has created a seamless ensemble that effortlessly fuses human and puppet movements to blur the line between human and monster– no small task. Actor/puppeteers Jimmy Hogan (Princeton), Brandy Miller (Kate Monster) Adams Ross Brody (Rod) and chameleons Andres J. DeLeon (Nicky/Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear) and Melissa Crabtree (Lucy/Mrs. Thistletwat/Bad Idea Bear) have to be super skilled to create emotional truth and simultaneously make the puppets come to life. Humans Thomas E. Squires as Brian, Mai Hartwich as Christmas Eve and Whitney Dottery as Gary Coleman round out the uber talented group that never hits a wrong note. Special kudos to scenic designer Ben Lipinski and media designer David Sajewich who keep the jokes going and create a believable NYC environment that hints at Sesame but has seen way better days.
This is a remarkable show that takes a cultural landmark from childhood as a springboard to confront what is so hard about moving into wisdom and purpose (there is a whole song about that), and it is perhaps the use of puppets that sneakily gets into your heart. The references are specific and yet universal, and the critique of where we are is so funny you almost don’t mind how damning it could be. Grab your pals and go, but don't bring the kids!
Music Theater Works is presenting Avenue Q at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie IL Wednesdays through Sundays til April 2, 2023. Go to www.MusicTheaterWorks.com for tickets or information.
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