‘Avenue Q’: Sesame Street for adults

Photo by David Cooper
Photo by David Cooper

What do you do with a BA in English? It’s a question many of us have asked ourselves but never has it been answered so poetically as through the medium of a puppet called Princeton.

Brought to life by the dexterous and animated Jeremy Crittenden, Princeton is the main character in the mirthful musical Avenue Q, which returns for a second season at the Arts Club’s Granville Stage this winter. Avenue Q has picked up the moniker ‘Sesame Street for adults’ during its 11 years of being performed first off, and then on, Broadway. This Arts Club production has toured the province and is now settling in for a festive run until just after the new year.

Princeton comes to Avenue Q in search of his purpose in life. During his time there he meets other puppets such as the in-the-closet Rod (also played by Crittenden) who is painfully besotted with his best friend Nicky. Princeton falls for Kate Monster, an idealistic furry girl who dreams of opening a school for monsters. Kate is played with depth and feeling by Kayla Dunbar, who also stars as the hair-flicking, hip-wiggling puppet Lucy the Slut. Dunbar’s vocal range is impressive – from sexy sultry numbers as Lucy to a spine-tingling and poignant song about the fine line between love and a waste of time, sung by Kate Monster.

Expressive actors manipulate the puppets with such passion, especially during the enthusiastic sex scene, that you soon forget you can see them handling the puppets and the characters truly come to life. An excellent band and versatile set design work in harmony with the catchy songs and great direction to create an upbeat and laugh-out-loud adventure.

Trekkie Monster, played by Vancouverite Nick Fontaine, has some of the funniest songs such as ‘The Internet is for Porn’ and the cast come together to belt out various humourous songs from ‘Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist’ to ‘It Sucks to Be Me’.

Many of the ‘humans’ in the cast are returning for a second season: from the dry-witted Evangelina Kambites playing child-star Gary Coleman to Andy Toth as Brian, the wannabe stand-up comic. Selina Wong is a new addition as Christmas Eve, Brian’s Japanese wife who plays it straight with aplomb whilst singing songs such as ‘The More You Ruv Someone’.

Side characters the Bad Idea Bears, hilariously played by Jeny Cassady and Nick Fontaine, are a twisted take on counsellors that add a dark element to the comedy. Although set in New York, this version has plenty of nods to local politics and events, with a nudge-nudge wink wink self-awareness that adds to the humour.

The unique mixture of puppets, humans and monsters enables the cast to explore some meaty issues with a touch so light you won’t even realize that you’re learning as many life lessons as you’d get on Sesame Street. You might even find out what to do with that BA in English.