Puppet masters

You know you’re in for something different early in The Pollard Theatre’s excellent production of Avenue Q performs a bouncy tune titled “It Sucks to Be Me.”

That song is followed by the accurate “The Internet Is for Porn” and the brief (no pun intended) “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today.” Thus, this little musical tells you right away it’s going to be sweet, charming and profane as hell.

The show’s creators — Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (Music, lyrics) and Jeff Whitty (book) — must have been weaned on Sesame Street. Some characters in Avenue Q are Muppetslike puppets, making it a complicated musical to stage.

The cast not only sings and acts, but manipulates the puppets. Director W. Jerome Stevenson has assembled an experienced company of actors who triumph in every way. It’s a pleasure to see a cast of this quality and skill.

Q won the 2004 Best Musical Tony Award, and its sketchy story concerns Princeton (the delightful Lane Fields), a recent college graduate who moves to New York City and suffers the shock of trying to make his way in the world. After much searching, he finds an affordable apartment on the seedy Avenue Q (the fine scenic design is by James A. Hughes), where his building superintendent is the aforementioned Coleman (JaLeesa Beavers).

Princeton’s neighborhood includes an aspiring comic (Doug Ford; great to see him again) and his Japanese wife, Christmas Eve (the fantastic Cristela Carrizales); a couple of Freudian ids known as the Bad Idea Bears (Jared Blount and Crystal Ecker); and several members of the “monster community,” including Kate Monster (Gwendolyn Evans) and Trekkie Monster (Jared Blount).

Why would you assume Kate and Trekkie are kin just because they’re both Monsters? Your prejudice is dealt with in “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”

The conceit of using puppets allows the show a hilarious edginess that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Puppets can get away with things that people cannot; to wit, the rollicking “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love).”

The serviceable, if jaunty, score teems with contemporary references, as in “Mix Tape” and “Schadenfreude.” The poignant “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” could stand alone outside the show’s context.

Not to be rude, but Avenue Q is long on style and short on substance. Its principal points — when you help others, you’re really helping yourself, etc. — aren’t original or provocative ideas. But I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun at the theater.

Wait. Yes, I do. It was last fall, at the University of Oklahoma’s production of Avenue Q.

Larry Laneer

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