Multitasking Robert McClure and Anika Larsen help animate Avenue Q.
AVENUE Q By Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, directed by Jason Moore (Dancap). Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge). To August 31. $50-$100. 416-872-5555. See Theatre Listings. Rating: NNNN
Puppets are people, too. They have feelings as well as sex, as we see in Avenue Q, the delightful Broadway musical hit that mixes live characters and half-body, fixed-faced puppets of the Sesame Street variety.
Though set in a fictional New York City neighbourhood, the story touches on universal issues.
At its centre is recent BA grad Princeton, who falls for the girl next door, Kate Monster (yes, she's actually a hairy monster) but believes that finding his life's purpose is more important than a relationship. Among their neighbours are would-be comic Brian (Cole Porter) and Brian's girlfriend Christmas Eve (Angela Ai), a Japanese therapist who can't get any clients; the Internet-porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster (voiced by the very funny David Benoit) and closeted Rod, silently in love with his straight roomie Nicky.
With tongue-in-cheek nods to kids' shows like The Electric Company, the story follows the fortunes of these people in a production filled with visual surprises.
The puppets, manipulated in sight of the audience by performers who physically reflect their characters' moods, are wonderfully exuberant. Some of the best performances are by these handlers, notably Robert McClure as the initially naive Princeton and the repressed, nasal-voiced Rod, a Republican who loves 40s Broadway musicals, and Anika Larsen as the determined Kate and her competition for Princeton's attention, the Mae West-voiced Lucy the Slut.
It's only partway through the show that you realize that a single actor sometimes voices two characters who share the stage.
The play has some problems, including a padded second act and a reliance on easy and quickly tiresome laughs in the character of has-been TV star Gary Coleman, now the apartment superintendent; it's not Danielle K. Thomas's fault that she has to mug her way through the role.
Even so, Avenue Q is a sharp, smart and sassy musical, guaranteed to touch you and make you laugh with its irreverent take on racism, homophobia and the difficulty of commitment..