"Avenue Q" is a musical about a young college graduate looking for his purpose - and hoping to find something to do with a bachelor's degree in English.
With such songs as “The Internet is for Porn” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” the show, stopping in Olympia on Wednesday, is definitely not your parents’ Broadway musical.
But it’s not your kids’ musical — even though the lead character, Princeton, has a fuzzy orange face and black yarn hair. He looks a little bit like Ernie of “Sesame Street.” The resemblance to the children’s series doesn’t stop there.
“It’s teaching life lessons but just not for kids; it’s for adults,” said Charles Baskerville, a member of the ensemble. “It’s for people who are out of college and beyond. It teaches lessons that you need throughout your life.”
The show also has specific resemblances to the famous street. For example, there’s a pair of Bert-and-Ernie-esque characters known as Rod and Nicky. The show addresses the roommates’ sexuality in the song “If You Were Gay,” which sounds uncannily like the tunes they were singing on “Sesame Street” 30 years ago.
So does “It Sucks to Be Me,” in which everybody proclaims, in perky voices and to upbeat music, what’s wrong with their lives. “Is there anybody it doesn’t suck to be?” they sing in unison. And then out comes Gary Coleman — not the real Coleman, who starred in “Diff’rent Strokes,” but a character modeled after the child actor who is now the landlord on Avenue Q.
“Obviously, ‘Sesame Street’ and the Children’s Television Workshop don’t want to be too associated with our show,” Baskerville said.
The show, generally recommended for ages 15 and older, features “full puppet nudity,” he said — although because these are hand puppets, there’s nothing below their waists.
“ ‘Avenue Q’ dares to co-opt television, the theater’s longtime adversary,” Ben Brantley wrote in a 2003 New York Times review (titled “A Feeling You’re Not on Sesame Street”). “This show, which has a book by Jeff Whitty and is directed by Jason Moore, addresses Americans who were weaned on the small screen and specifically on the educational antics of friendly anthropomorphic teachers like Big Bird and Cookie Monster.”
“Avenue Q” looks like a rubber duckie, and it quacks like a rubber duckie, but not all of the characters are puppets. They are played both by human actors and by the hand puppets they wear. The human and puppet move their heads together, gesture together and look in the same direction. The actor kind of makes up for what the puppet can’t do, for what the puppet can’t express,” Baskerville said. But the effect is very much as though puppet and person are mirroring one another.
As a member of the ensemble, Baskerville sometimes works a puppet voiced by someone else, meaning he has to lip sync while making the puppet lip sync and move while having it echo his movements. It’s a lot to juggle, he said. Ensemble members also work offstage singing and manipulating puppets, and they understudy the lead roles.
“You have to keep the energy up in the puppet,” he said. “It works out your arm pretty good when you’re doing it. You can’t forget to act yourself, because the person is always present with the puppet.”
Baskerville, of New York City, had never worked with puppets prior to getting the job on the “Avenue.”
“It was very scary,” he said. “Sometimes it’s still scary because I don’t work with the puppets all the time. It’s a lot to remember. It’s kind of like learning a dance that you can’t really practice all the time and then just having to do it all of a sudden.”