REVIEW: "Avenue Q"— Cupcake Theater @ The Hollywood Magestic

Updated: Jan 13

Get Ready for Puppets Gone Wild!

A show that would make Miss Piggy blush. This should give you a hint of what happens in “Avenue Q,” the naughty “Sesame Street” send-up that imagines a group of hopeful kids in the midst of a series of post-collegiate identity crises — trying to get a job, pay the rent, find true love and discover a sense of purpose.

“It Sucks to Be Me,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet Is for Porn.” Terribly un-PC, yet laced with kernels of truth—these are some of the songs from the delightful show that upset the 2004 Tony Awards, beating “Wicked” for best new musical. With concept, music and lyrics by Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon,” “Frozen”) and Jeff Marx, with a book by Jeff Whitty, “Q” has enjoyed a circuitous, track-jumping ride from off-Broadway to Broadway and back. It has played Las Vegas, toured the globe and even survived the death of Gary Coleman.

Now, following a closure that lasted over a year, “Avenue Q” has returned to the Cupcake Theater Company in the newly renovated Hollywood Majestic Theater, where it opened last Friday in a freshly imagined, marvelously sung production directed by Brayden Hade, musically directed by Dylan Price and choreographed by Rehyan Rivera. Produced by founder Michael Pettenato, the madness continues through February 13th.

Featured in the cast are Lexi Collins (“Topsy Turvy: A Frozen Parody”) as Kate Monster/Lucy T. Slut; Cameron James Parker (“Bat Knight”) as Nicky/Trekkie/Bad Idea Bear; Connor Bullock (“Legally Blonde”) as Princeton/Rod; Renée Cohen (“Peter Pan”) as Mrs. T/Bad Idea Bear; Amber France (“Spring Awakening”) as Gary Coleman; Alex Butte (“Les Miserables”) as Brian; Amanda Tugangui (“Fun Home”) as Christmas Eve; Kristen Daniels (“Hairspray”), Jewell Valentin (“The Producers”), Dominique Kent (“Dreamgirls”) and Marissa Frankie (“Miss Saigon”) swing the roles.

The performers—people and puppets—are flawless. Especially fascinating is the way the puppeteers mirror the physical expressions of their inanimate, but highly animated charges. Their ability to convey mood and emotion is remarkable, and it infects the audience. Oftentimes in musicals, one must choose to cast actors who can sing or singers who can act. Here, the task is a degree more difficult, as the piece requires puppeteers who can both act and sing really well.

Watching them bring shadings to the boundaries between cloth and flesh is a pleasure, as their characters wrestle with issues of jobs and relationships, homosexuality, racism, drugs, alcohol, Internet porn, and yes, sex. Or I should say Sex with a capital S. All with two smiling, adorable Bad Idea Bears encouraging the residents to walk on the wild side. It's at once deliciously shocking and rib-tickling hilarious. I may have even pulled a muscle.

The story opens with naive newcomer Princeton, an unemployed English Lit grad, who arrives in an “outer-outer borough” of New York City with the obligatory bag of dreams and the equally compulsory empty pockets. Idealistic and starry-eyed, he stares into the audience and sings, in a voice, shiny, ringing with hope, ''Something's coming, something good.''

He stumbles onto Avenue Q ("I started at Avenue A," he tells the residents, "but everything so far is out of my price range"). There he meets other tenants: a slacker comedian named Brian and his Japanese wife-to-be, Christmas Eve (an unemployed social worker); Bert ‘n Ernie clones Nicky and his repressed roommate, the buttoned-down broker, Rod (who yearns for a male partner, just doesn’t know it yet); marriage-hungry Kate Monster (a young teacher’s assistant - for a while anyway, with whom Princeton quickly falls into, out of, and eventually back into love); a hairy recluse named T