Princeton (Robert McClure), a recent English major, arrives in a certain imaginary neighborhood in New York City, wondering just what will become of him. He has eyes, so to speak, for Kate Monster (Anika Larsen), who is a kindergarten teacher. Actress Larsen also provides voice for racy, coarse Lucy, who has nightclub gig singing and a penchant for Princeton. Rod (McClure again) is a Republican who has yet to come out of the closet with his sexuality. Rod's roommate is disheveled, friendly Nicky (David Benoit), who is straight. Benoit, superb throughout, also plays Trekkie Monster, obsessed with the notion that "The Internet is For Porn." Hefty Brian (Cole Porter) is an out-of-work comedian who will marry a Japanese therapist named Christmas Eve (Sala Iwamatsu). Perhaps topping all of this off, actress Danielle K. Thomas plays, believe it or not, Gary Coleman. Life's slope has been downhill for the former child star and he now is an apartment house superintendent, with wry if not sarcastic words for most anyone.
That's the set-up. The actors are: versatile, adroit, fresh and altogether winning. Jeff Whitty's book moves quickly, and music and lyrics by the men who conceived the show, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, said to be not yet thirty years of age as they created Avenue Q, make the most of each moment. In all, it's smart, a bit on the edge, and a great deal of fun. Avenue Q requires that theatergoers quickly grow used to performers manipulating and singing with the puppets they operate. Whom to watch? This might create confusion for five or ten minutes, but not for the remaining two hours plus of high-energy theater.
The evening opens with various characters explaining just why "It Sucks to be Me." Later, we hear an intriguing tune about racism. I especially enjoyed Larsen-as-Kate's rendition of a torch song called "There's a Fine, Fine Line." Lucy (Larsen) wants to make us feel "Special." You get the idea.
It is impossible to watch the gifted Avenue Q without thinking of "Sesame Street," tame compared to this Broadway-style musical. Avenue Q is, of course, fictional. We are talking about an area in New York well beyond the usual Alphabet City designations such as Avenues A, B, and so forth. Anna Louizos' effective set design makes it seem like the street might actually exist. Jason Moore, who directed the show on Broadway, has the actors very much in motion, a good thing. Howell Brinkley's neat lighting helps with atmosphere.
The puppets were designed by Rick Lyon, a man whose creative touch cannot be underestimated. The devices (and the play, too) are visually cool and funny.
Avenue Q continues at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford through January 18th. For ticket information, visit www.bushnell.org or call (860) 987-5900.
- Fred Sokol