On a New York street populated with cute, fuzzy puppets and their living, breathing human neighbors, important life lessons are learned through catchy tunes and video animation. However, as a few red-faced parents discovered the hard way on opening night, "Avenue Q" – now playing at Detroit's Fisher Theatre – is NOT "Sesame Street," despite the similarities.
Rather, the snappy, adult-themed musical pays homage to the long-running educational television show – where instead of pre-schoolers learning what words begin with the letter "A," young adults struggle with their sexuality, what their purpose in life might be, and what exactly one can do with a college degree in English.
Oh – and it's where puppets have hot, steamy sex and drop the "f" bomb every now and then.
Can you imagine the uncomfortable conversations those parents had with their kids on the way home from the theater that night? (So be forewarned: Leave the pre-and early teens at home; this show is not for them!)
Princeton, single and college educated, is clueless about his future. So, too, are his neighbors. Rod, a Republican investment banker, is afraid to come out of the closet, and kicks out roommate Nicky when he suggests the truth to another neighbor; Brian is an out-of-work stand-up comic; Christmas Eve is a therapist without any clients; Kate Monster, who catches Princeton's eye, wants to open a school for monsters, but doesn't have the money to do it; and building superintendent Gary Coleman – yes, THAT Gary Coleman – is tired of being a washed-up former child TV star.
As they all sing in the show's first of many memorable tunes, "It sucks to be me."
It doesn't, of course. But as creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music and lyrics) and Jeff Whitty (book) explain in their very funny, Tony Award-winning musical: It's a long and often rocky path to adulthood – but life's scary moments are only "For Now."
Besides a bright score that will stick with you long after the performance ends (and a story many young adults will likely identify with), what will captivate visitors to "Avenue Q" is the skill of the puppeteers/performers. Unlike "Sesame Street" where the puppeteers are always out of view, they're all in plain site in "Avenue Q" – which often presents a quandary: Which do you watch: the puppets or the puppeteers? The puppets, of course, but since the puppeteers' faces and body language always reflect the emotions of their characters, it's equally fun to switch focus from one to the other.
Doubling the amazement is the fact that each puppeteer plays more than one character, which requires different vocal qualities and body language for each. And some puppets require more than one operator – or a different operator than the person who supplies the voice. The work is truly seamless, and all puppeteers are excellent at their craft.
The live performers are also fine, but Danielle K. Thomas deserves special mention for giving life to a credible Gary Coleman.
Anna Louizos' set is full of delightful surprises, but the music on opening night often overpowered the performers. And the second act wasn't quite as slick
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tue.-Sat. through Nov. 23. Tickets: $32-$77. May not be suitable for kids under 13. For information: 313-872-1000 or http://www.broadwayindetroit.com.