It’s more than a few blocks from Sesame Street to “Avenue Q.”
Puppets have long been synonymous with children, but “Avenue Q,” a Broadway musical (book by Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx) now in production at Adirondack Theatre Festival, under the direction of Jennifer Barnhart, is unequivocally adult.
Scene designer Paul Tate dePoo created an environment of urban decay and deteriorated dreams. Disillusion clogs the street with splatters and grime that one feels would resist the most determined street-sweeper. Tight two-story apartments adorned with vivid graffiti and a few pathetic window boxes heighten the contrast between youthful aspirations and a sunken pit of reality. Fences constructed of chain-link, plywood and rust-eaten corrugated metal hide the implied grit of back alleys and garbage-filled courtyards.
Whitty’s storyline takes Princeton (intuitively realized by Noah Zachery, who also takes on the extremely starched persona of Rod), a college grad with a B.A. in English and no sense of direction, and sets him down amidst a decidedly eccentric neighborhood.
The human characters include a disenchanted Gary Coleman (candidly realized by Shinnerrie Jackson), who is now a building superintendent; Brian (given a grounded bum-next-door personification by Stephen DiBlasi), a good-natured slob who longs to fulfill a dream of being a stand-up comic; and Christmas Eve (spunky Joanne Javien) who came to this country from Japan in hopes of opportunity — now dashed.
And as for the puppets ... there’s Trekkie, a pervert next door (given a revolting authenticity by Rob Morrison — who also creates a happy-go-lucky but clueless Nicky); kind, lonely and furry Kate Monster (Stacia Newcomb, who can flip at the drop of a penny into Kate’s nemesis and opposite, Lucy the slut); and the Bad Idea Bears (given a discombobulating ironic cuteness by Heather Brorson and others) — a quirky take on the “devil-on-my-shoulder” tradition.
“Avenue Q” necessitates a more multi-layered form of acting than is required by most musicals. There are people, there are puppets — and then there are the puppeteers. If the puppets are a visual realization of characters, then the puppeteers are expressions of the character’s inner emotions. It’s almost like having a tangible soul.
But what kind of a soul? If these are what “Sesame Street” puppets grow up to be, this reviewer is not sure she wanted to know about it.
The general premise of the play seems to be that dreams don’t always come true. Although this has the potential for an interesting exploration of disillusionment, and some hard realities such as racism, homophobia and the uncertainty of success via academic achievements, the “packaged” feel of the play’s characters and the multiplicity of crass humor brings the production down from some relevent philosophical ideas to a celebration of off-color humor. There were authentically funny segments, but there also were many jokes that were of a distinctly uncouth nature.
Costuming (by Caitlin Headley) was visual description of character. Brian’s casual approach to life is mirrored in his wedding-day tee-shirt tux — Christmas Eve’s vivid patterns and colors radiate tenacity. Gary Coleman’s workaday overalls coincide with a down-to-earth personality.
A lighting scheme by Jason Weber offered a Broadway spectacle of vibrant colorful atmospheres. Nothing subtle here, but it was not intended to be so.
Music was notable — there was a live pit orchestra, and despite the musical’s coarse lyrics, it should be noted the group was perfectly in sync with the singers. Greg Verheyn — during his acoustic bass segments — crafted handsomely poignant expressions with his instrument.
The production was executed flawlessly. But one of the main questions pertaining to theater, following a production’s goals and how well they were met is: Was it worth doing? There was a main plot thread of searching for purpose, but one gets the sense this was simply a cover-up for an overdose of excessively potent crass humor.
If adult Broadway is your ticket, this might be right up your avenue. But for those looking for a more introspective and involved form of drama, or a production that is family-friendly, this reviewer’s advice is to look elsewhere.
If you go
The Adirondack Theatre Festival production of “Avenue Q” runs through Saturday at Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls. Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and a special 2 p.m. matinee has been added on Saturday.
For tickets, which are $25 to $40, go to the Wood box office, call 874-0800 or purchase online at www.atfestival.org.