Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts100 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89501
It’s fair to say that a large percentage of American adults, myself included, learned life’s most important lessons from Muppets: the value of diversity, tolerance, forgiveness, the multiplication tables … I know I often long for those simple, worry-free days brought to you by the letter B and the number 4.
So do Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who originally conceived Avenue Q, Broadway’s acclaimed puppetry musical, almost a decade ago as an adult homage to Sesame Street. It clearly hit a vein, scoring numerous Tonys and becoming one of Broadway’s longest running shows.
Kerri Brackin, part of the Avenue Q cast that’s set to take the stage at Reno’s Pioneer Center, says that though its inspiration may have been children’s shows, its themes are decidedly adult.
“The subjects are somewhat taboo and racy, which I think is pretty stunning when it’s coming out of the mouths of puppets,” says Brackin, who plays Mrs. T, as well as one of the Bad Idea Bears and other minor roles. “These are things people don’t talk about. And I think it’s a much easier way to discuss those topics. It just seems a little bit softer and sweeter coming out of puppets’ mouths.”
Avenue Q is the story of Princeton, a young man who moves to the Big Apple with nothing but big dreams and a new and seemingly useless bachelor’s in English (read: no money). The only apartment he can afford is on Avenue Q, where Gary Coleman (yes, that one) is the superintendent, and his neighbors include Brian, an out-of-work comedian; Christmas Eve, Brian’s Asian therapist fiancée; Kate, a kindergarten teaching assistant; a slacker named Nicky; Rod, Nicky’s gay-but-closeted roommate; and the Trekkie monster, an Internet addict.
The show covers such controversial territory as homosexuality, addiction to porn, drinking, and racial stereotyping. Other less controversial yet still mature themes include the struggle to begin a career and make ends meet, and the delights of first love. It even takes stabs at Glenn Beck and FOX News.
“I think the main theme of the show is acceptance, the importance of loving people for who they are,” says Brackin, who attended law school and earned a master’s degree in psychology before pursuing her love of musical theater.
Although Brackin’s theatrical experience includes a national tour with Hairspray, along with numerous regional productions, she says that Avenue Q presents an array of unique challenges, not the least of which is voice acting. “I had no experience in puppetry prior to Avenue Q, and I think it’ll make any job I have from now on seem easier,” she laughs. “Every night there’s some new challenge with the puppets. It’s enormously physical, so my arms are definitely much stronger than they’ve ever been!”
Approximately 75 puppets comprise the cast, although there are a few roles held by live actors. All performers, including the puppeteers, appear onstage (instead of behind a platform). Those acting as puppets simply wear “puppet grays,” as Brackin explains, and do their best to convey all their emotions and reactions through their puppets.
As if that weren’t difficult enough, they have to sing their way through most scenes. The childlike, memorable little ditties bear a striking resemblance to Sesame Street tunes, although you never heard song titles like this on the Street: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet is for Porn,” and “If You Were Gay.”
So while young children would certainly find the puppetry appealing, they aren’t quite ready for the subject matter, which is why it’s recommended for ages 13 and up.
But Avenue Q might just feel like home to us angst-ridden 30-somethings.