Avenue Q is Sesame Street for Big Kids

From notable songs such as “The Internet Is for Porn” and “If You Were Gay,” Avenue Q playing at Wasatch Theatre Company through September 22nd is purely for the big kids’ entertainment.  Despite the Sesame Street reminiscent puppets this wonderful show is all about what it’s like to really be a grown up and is absolutely not for the young ones.

Coming from the magical past of parents and children’s programing telling us we can be whatever we want to be because we are special, to entering a disillusioned world where a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean much in “What Do you Do with a B.A in English?” and life sometimes just isn’t fair in “It Sucks to Be Me” – Avenue Q draws us into the real world where the illusion is dismissed and life happens.

In case you’re not familiar with Avenue Q, half the cast is human and the other half is played by puppets.  The neat thing is that the human puppeteers play right alongside the puppet so you get the added bonus of their acting, body language and facial expression as well as the actual puppet mannerisms.   It’s surprising how well this works and adds to the overall experience.

The story opens with upbeat, wide-eyed and optimistic Princeton (the puppet) who just graduated from college.  With only a little bit of money from mom and dad, all he can afford is an apartment on Avenue Q with superintendent Gary Coleman (yes, as in “Whatchu talkin bout Willis?”).  Soon thereafter he meets his colorful neighbors including love interest Kate Monster, a kindergarten-teaching assistant who wants to open her own school for monsters.

Along the way we are introduced to Rod who is reminiscent of Burt on Sesame Street and plays an ultra-conservative republican investment banker whom everyone assumes is gay (he even loves the musicals). And of course, his slacker and goof off roomie Nicky, who is reminiscent of Ernie, who Rod just may have a crush on. And finally we have Trekkie Monster who sits in his apartment all day surfing the internet for porn.

Mix into this colorful collection of characters, a stripper puppet named Lucy the Slut, a budding romance (puppet sex and all), hangovers, “bad-idea bears,” and Scientology all set to upbeat and nostalgic childlike music and you have the makings for a hysterical evening.

Though sparse on set, prop and lighting design, the talent in this show is anything but meager! Cameron Kapetanov as Nicky (Trekkie and Bad Idea Bear) was outstanding in his ability to draw parallels to the childhood characters we grew up with and the adult versions of so many people we actually may know.  The scene where he sings to his roommate Rod (Jeremy Heaps) that it would be okay if Rod was gay was brilliantly played by both actors.

Heaps may have been the best puppeteer of the night fully animating his clothed counterpart. I enjoyed his ability to utilize both hands of the puppet a majority of the time rather than letting one hand swing distractingly like most of the other actors did.

Natalia Noble offered a standout performance as Kate Monster.  Noble’s ability to play two very unique characters (Lucy the Slut) on stage, at the same time and make them unique enough that you barely notice the transitions between the two – takes some serious talent.  She was by far the most animated (and enjoyable to watch) in her own acting choices. I would have liked to see a little more of that enthusiasm transfer over to her puppet’s physicality but this is only because I loved her acting choices so much!

Finally, Rick Rea as Director and Choreographer did a fantastic job casting this production with strong talent across the board.  In addition, the transitions, staging, pace of the show and general use of the space worked very well and should be commended.

Though Avenue Q is an uproariously good time it has a surprising sentimentality streak to it.  Under the often offensive and hilarious comedy there is a heart that resonates with those who have traveled a somewhat different path than we dreamed of in your childhood only to find out that different is not necessarily bad!

Avenue Q, produced by Wasatch Theatre is playing at the Rose Wagner through September 22nd.  More information can be found on their website at wasatchtheatre.org.

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