Denver musical puts puppets in mature situations
Vail CO, Colorado
If ever there was a musical for people who “don’t like musicals,” this just may be it. “Avenue Q,” the three-time Tony-Award winner now playing at the Denver Center, is just a ton of fun ” the kind of show that takes a familiar form, contorts it in a variety of ways and manages to emerge with all the expected sensibilities intact.
Set in a rundown section of New York City, “Avenue Q” explores in hilarious fashion what happens to a freshly minted college grad named Princeton (Seth Rettberg) who tries to make sense of his new life as a grown-up. Should he seek a girl? How about “purpose?” How long is all this supposed to take and, as one number archly suggests, perhaps it would be better to be back in college.
The big gimmick in “Avenue Q” is that most of the actors use puppets. Functioning as both foils and avatars, the puppets (comprised of heads and torsos only) seem capable of saying and singing things one might not want to hear from a human being. “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” is one number in the first act that gives a pretty good idea of where “Avenue Q” lives on the in-your-face honesty scale. Another is “It Sucks to Be Me,” where the entire cast attempts to out-miserable one another.
This traveling version of the Broadway hit is tight, with an exceptionally strong cast full of big voices and actors who’ve mastered the skill of manipulating the puppets while not upstaging them. After a while, the audience gets used to focusing on the puppets themselves, with occasional glances at the actors to see them at work. It’s an odd but gratifying experience to see both puppet and puppeteer on the same stage, working together toward a satisfying tableau that’s almost without precedent. Who knew the Broadway musical could be so thoroughly tweaked with such great results?
As funny as it is, “Avenue Q” nonetheless works in territory that’s highly relatable to anyone who’s been through their 20s ” and, in the case of my 17-year-old son who joined me on opening night ” even for those who aren’t quite there yet. The show does a wonderful job of portraying a time of aching frustration and confusion, amazement at life’s cruelties and unfairness while also celebrating the highs of sex, friendship and shared misery.
And did I mention it’s hilarious? Were it a TV show it could only exist on HBO or Showtime, laced as it is with profanity, sex and plenty of those “mature situations” parents are warned about. The puppets may look strikingly similar to the ones we grew up with on “Sesame Street,” but I wouldn’t bring anyone younger than 15 to this show.
At the core of the story is the near-love story between Princeton and Kate Monster (Anika Larsen). We also have Christmas Eve, she of the tortured Asian accent (Angela Ai); her husband Brian (Cole Porter); the closeted gay guy Rod (also played by Retterberg); Lucy the Slut (Larsen); and a few others including an internet-porn fanatic, two “bad idea bears” who suggest things like pounding Long Island iced teas; and Gary Coleman (Danielle K. Thomas) as the building superintendent ” accompanied by as many faded-child-actor jokes as you can stand.
“Avenue Q” may not be for those of more prudish persuasion, but on opening night at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the packed house was a cross-section of old and young, all of whom roared together at the fast-paced show. It only takes about 75 minutes to get from Frisco to the Denver Center ” this is one not to miss.
Alex Miller is the editor of the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
What: “Avenue Q,” musical comedy featuring puppets
Where: The Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center
When: Through Sept. 21. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $25 and up, available at http://www.denvercenter.org or 303-893-4100.
More information: Visit http://www.avenueq.com.