Courthouse’s Avenue Q is a monstrous delight

Oh the places you’ll go!
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 22, 2012

NO STRINGS ATTACHED Cue the puppet sex!

Think twice before you tell anybody to get real. You might create a monster. Or, in the case of Avenue Q, the Sesame Street-on-LSD Broadway musical, a monster hit since 2003.

On hilarious display at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston (through March 4) are is puppet sex that makes Last Tango in Paris look like a minuet and songs, invariably emotion-oriented, that make you glad that satirical humor was invented.

Music and lyrics are by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and the Tony Award-winning book is by Jeff Whitty. This production is snappily directed by Richard Ericson with JonPaul Rainville, the show's choreographer; kudos also go to puppet designer and builder Nora Eschenheimer.

Avenue Q's origin story, theme, and raison d'être is that Sesame Street, the warm and fuzzy children's show, lied, lied, lied. Boys and girls, uh, about Big Bird pumping up your self-esteem by saying how special you are . . . well, um, everyone being special means that no one is.

After the opening ensemble number, when someone sings the balloon-bursting "What Do You Do With a BA In English?," the closing number might as well have followed and we could all go home. Point made. 'Nuf said.

Fortunately, this delightful show does go on. There are plenty of items of conventional wisdom to frown at and sing about, expectations to be put in perspective. Almost two-thirds of the songs in the first act are about love and romance, sensuality, and wall-banging jungle sex.

The characters are a broad sampling of New York City outer borough denizens, mostly young people and nearly a dozen puppets with people-like problems. That solo song near the opening, about college major consequences, is delivered by recent graduate Princeton (Aaron Lathrop), who can't find a job. On Avenue Q he meets friendly folks who are united in their shaky financial and psychological states. When he starts singing "It Sucks To Be Me," some of them join in, with grumpiness as much as in empathy.

Neighbors include gentle Kate Monster (Talia Triangolo), a kindergarten teaching assistant, and Trekkie Monster (Andrew T. Jones), a surly, furry misanthrope (think Animal in The Muppet Show) who is constantly slamming his window shut. The Monsters in this world, stand-ins for dominant-society-outsiders, are the occasion for the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," which is hardly a profound sociological thesis but is harmless enough.

Establishing that Monsters no more think alike than look alike, the entertaining "The Internet Is For Porn" begins innocently with Kate singing the practical praises of the Web, but each observation is punctuated by Trekkie. Like the annoying grammar school pestering of tacking on "in bed" to observations, the randy blue fur ball adds "for porn."

They are all outsiders of sorts. Brian (Douglas Hummel-Price) is an out-of-work comedian, and his fiancée Christmas Eve (Lynn Craig) is from Japan. Slacker Nicky (Jones) is rooming with a supposed conservative insider, Republican banker Rod (Lathrop). Rod being a closeted gay is the occasion for a very funny song, "My Girlfriend, Who Lives In Canada." Unfortunately, his being in denial also prompts him to turn Nicky into a homeless street person when the latter suggests, in an accepting way, that Rod might have such an identity issue ("If You Were Gay").

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