Yes, “Avenue Q” and Sesame Street both have puppets in their cast. But the puppets from those two productions must live on opposite sides of town. Because, while Sesame Street’s famous characters share lessons about the alphabet, numbers, friendship and kindness, Avenue Q’s residents tackle tougher topics. Try racism, pornography, homelessness, depression, financial worries and homosexuality.
While those aren’t the easiest subjects to discuss, even with family, the cast and crew of “Avenue Q” bring them to the forefront with wit, humor, song and yes, sometimes a good deal of bluntness that can make the audience squirm as it’s chuckling.
The musical is being put on by the Hawaii Childrens’ Theater “after dark,” which means it has adult themes and language. It’s showing at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse through Aug. 10. Shows are Thursday through Sunday.
Directed by Maile Speetjens, there’s not a lot of time spent on character development and building a plot. It’s off and running from the opening scene when the character of “Princeton” (Billy Quebido) moves to Avenue Q, one of the rougher, run-down parts of town. Residents there can be edgy, cynical, aloof and soft-hearted, too. He comes to meet his neighbors that include the well-meaning couple, Christmas Eve (Kristen Miyasaki) and Brian (Jarhett Gaines), Gary Coleman (Robert Carrasco), Lucy T. Slut (Sarah Carrasco) Kate Monster (Rebecca Hanson), Trekkie Monster (Chris Alderete), Mrs. Thistletwat (Haley Adamic), Nicky (Sean Evans), Rod (Patric Knight) and Bad Idea Bear (Kylie Wilson).
As the story, based on a book by Jeff Whitty, unwinds, some of the taboo subjects of society come to the surface as Princeton struggles to find work, love and make sense of life as an adult and no longer the kid in college. Initially, he’s overwhelmed. This is a raucous crowd at times, as these puppets drink, swear and wind up in bed together.
Some of the more memorable lines:
“It sucks to be me.”
“Everyone is a little racist.”
“The Internet is for porn.”
“The more you ‘ruv’ someone, the more you want to kill them.”
“Think of all the joy you bring to others when they see how miserable you are.”
What makes this work is the cast and their ability to mix puppets, people, song and dialogue. As the play builds, it’s the puppet, not the person, your eyes follow. As well, the songs, especially the group numbers, show off some powerful voices.
By the musical’s end, it seems Avenue Q, despite the quirks, challenges and personal demons of some characters, would be a pretty good place to call home — at least for awhile. They come to care for each other and resolve differences. Inside the often coarse language and adult matter, an overriding message of forgiveness, love, pursuing dreams and helping those around you shines through. And as one of the songs says, the troubles you may face are, “only for now.”
Kudos to the cast for taking on difficult subjects and making them seem a little less frightening with terrific singing, bright smiles and some kindly puppets. Well done, also to the talented Avenue Q Band and Ron Horoshko for set construction and design.
But to be clear, this isn’t for children. Some adults may be offended by the language and content.
Oh yeah, and be sure to bring a few extra dollars because the cast really does come into the audience as part of the show seeking donations to help Kate Monster turn her dream into reality.
General tickets are $25. Students and seniors are $20. Because the theater’s seating is limited, it’s best to buy them in advance.