© Tara Bradbury photo
Imagine if the characters on “Sesame Street” grew up; if instead of singing about phonics and numbers, they became adults, learning about things like drinking, one-night stands and what it’s like to get fired from a job.
Instead of ever-happy, always playful personalities, they became regular college graduates, facing real world adult situations, looking for their purpose in life.
This is the premise of Best Kind Productions’ latest show, a version of the award-winning musical comedy “Avenue Q.” It’s risqué, but it’s hilarious, featuring a cast that includes a little flesh, a little felt — and a whole lot of felt flesh, in the case of one puppet sex scene.
The plot is human enough: a group of young people living in an outer borough of the big city, all chasing their dreams and attempting to find their purpose.
However, with the exception of three roles, all characters in the show are puppets.
“At that moment after college, what do you do? How do you make that next step? Everybody makes mistakes in trying to figure out what that next step is, and (the show) just musicalizes that,” says director Tim Matson.
It’s actually pretty heartfelt and has some moments where you’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’ve gone through that before. Even though it’s a puppet up there, you can empathize with them. You start to feel for a puppet.”
The show centres around Princeton (puppeteered by Daniel Lasby), a recent English graduate with no work experience.
He starts looking for an apartment on Avenue A; he finally finds one he can afford on Avenue Q, and soon meets his new neighbours: among them are Kindergarten teaching assistant Kate Monster (Kristin Murphy), roommates Nicky (puppeteered jointly by Simon Alteen and Trevor Bennett) and Rod, and Trekkie Monster (Kimberley Drake and Keith Power), who lives in an upstairs apartment and is addicted to Internet porn.
In the human roles are Philip Goodridge as aspiring comedian Brian, Vicki Harnett as his therapist fiancée Christmas Eve, and Karla Noftle as former child star Gary Coleman, the superintendent of the apartment building.
Other actors include Dana Parsons as Lucy The Slut, and Adena Cahill and Adrien Doucet as the Bad News Bears, the bad side of Princeton’s conscience.
“Have you ever watched ‘The Muppet Show’ or ‘Sesame Street’ and been like, I wish I could be one of those guest stars? It’s totally like that,” Goodridge says.
“I really like that you can see everybody who’s (behind the puppets), but I can’t look at them because I’m doing a scene with the puppet.”
There are mix tapes. There are swear words. There’s full-puppet nudity. There are sub-plots which explore issues like racism and homosexuality.
In a nutshell, the show fits right in with Best Kind Productions’ mandate to mount outside-the-box productions.
“It isn’t your typical big, splashy musical comedy. It’s a little off-kilter,” explains director Tim Matson.
It’s the first time the not-for-profit community theatre company has produced a show with such a large cast, and with puppets, which has obviously come with a few challenges.
Directing a character with frozen facial features requires some special creativity, Matson says.
“I don’t know a whole lot about puppetry, but because of the limited movement of the facial features, it makes those little tiny gestures, those little tilts to the head, even more noticeable,” he says, adding the cast has had the help of puppetry director Caitlin Bolduc-Whelan in executing certain scenes.
What complicates the direction even further is that the Nicky and Trekkie Monster characters are each played by two actors: one works the mouth (making the voice) and one arm of the puppet, and the other works the other arm.
The pairs of performers have had to learn to work in sync to create the character, usually with their free arms around each other. They’ve got it nailed, Matson says, and he often finds himself offering directions to the puppets rather than the humans behind them.
The original Broadway production of “Avenue Q” won six Tony Awards and a Grammy Award, among other prizes, and versions of the show have been produced around the world.
The cast and puppets from the show have appeared at numerous events, including London Pride celebrations, on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” and in their own YouTube video called “We Will Rock Q.”
The local production, the cast and crew say, promises to be just as “pant-wettingly funny.”
With musical direction by Kyle McDavid, stage management by Kate Hennigar and set design by Keith Roberts, “Avenue Q” runs at the LSPU Hall May 30 to June 2.
Tickets are $27 and are available at the LSPU Hall box office, by calling 753-4531 or online at www.rca.nf.ca.