My gran doesn’t trust a soul in New York. She’s heard too many horror stories about muggings and hold-ups. When she visits Manhattan, she keeps her bag clutched tight to her bosom, eyes flitting from side to side watching out for pickpockets. The only time she puts her bag down is when she’s seated for a Broadway show.
The last production she saw was the Tony Award-winning Avenue Q, which she thought would be a harmless comedy about a bunch of lovable puppets trying to make ends meet in the real world. What she got was an uproariously adult take on TV puppet shows — think Sesame Street with sex and drugs, all brought to you by a certain four-letter word.
Granny Smith knew the show was full of surprises, but she didn’t bargain for songs like “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today” and “You Can Be Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love).” She definitely didn’t expect one of the puppets to come up to her and start rifling through her purse. But after a brief senior freak-out, she realized that it was all part of the wild, woolly musical.
The seating arrangements in the Performing Arts Center don’t really allow for such participation, but audiences will still feel like they’re part of the action as they follow the adventures of Princeton, a young, naïve puppet who ends up on Avenue Q and meets a host of hairy characters who all have thwarted ambitions and distant dreams. These include Kate Monster, a cute but lonely kindergarten teaching assistant; an odd couple of roommates named Nicky and Rod; and shut-in Trekkie Monster, whose signature song is “The Internet Is for Porn.”
Ingeniously, Avenue Q creators elected not to hide the puppeteers, so we see one or two people behind each monster. “I think that’s why it won three Tonys,” says Jason Heymann, one of the talents behind Trekkie Monster (he also handles Nicky, Bear, and other characters). “There are much deeper emotions with the actors there to carry out what the puppets can’t. As an actor, you find yourself relating to the other actors even though they have a furry thing on the end of their arm.”