An R-rated “Sesame Street,” complete with vocabulary lessons and adorable, fuzzy, wide-eyed puppets — that’s “Avenue Q.”
The 2004 Tony Award-winner for best musical, best original score and best book for a musical — by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty — is on tour in a short run at the Orpheum Theatre in The City, and it’s as clever, relevant and bawdy as ever.
With songs like “It Sucks to Be Me,” “If You Were Gay,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet Is for Porn,” the show isn’t for kids, but it is for grown-ups questioning the meaning of their lives — and isn’t that most of us?
Set in a seedy section of New York, “Avenue Q” follows the adventures of Muppet-like characters Princeton, Kate Monster, Trekkie Monster, Rod and Nicky, and their human pals Brian, Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman, the real-life example of the show’s theme: Despite childhood experiences filled with promises that they’re special, young adults are thrust into an indifferent world filled with racism, unemployment, poverty and unrealized dreams.
Everyone has an issue: Recent college grad Princeton seeks a job and purpose; Kate Monster, an assistant kindergarten teacher, seeks romance with a wavering Princeton; and Rod denies his homosexuality, causing concern for straight roommate Nicky. Trekkie Monster and two devilish Bad Idea Bears serve up vices for all.
As for the humans, Brian, who’s white, and his highly-educated Japanese sweetheart Christmas Eve are unemployed. Then there’s Coleman, whose fall from stardom has led to a building superintendent gig on Avenue Q.
The show’s inventiveness is on display in lots of ways, from video screens at the side of the stage offering vocabulary lessons — with words like “schadenfreude” — and the presence of the puppeteers, who aren’t hidden, but sing and speak the dialogue in full view. Their actions delightfully complement those of their characters, and watching the interaction between everyone onstage is another of the production’s treats.
A compact, versatile cast of seven makes the most of the truly terrific material.
Handling two contrasting roles with lovely vocalizations, puppeteer Ashley Eileen Bucknam is the sympathetic Kate Monster, as well as her puppet nemesis, Lucy the Slut, who successfully makes a play for Princeton’s affections.
David Colston Corris is sweet as the pondering Princeton and wondering Rod, while Michael Liscio Jr. skillfully handles the earnest Nicky and sassy Trekkie Monster. With fewer vocal duties, Kerri Brackin grabs various characters throughout.
As Brian, Tim Kornblum is a wholly believable comedian out of a job, while Lisa Helmi Johanson is nicely over-the-top with Christmas Eve’s Asian accent. Anita Welch has just the right comic touch as Coleman — whom everyone agrees has the life that sucks the most.
Characters delightfully pop in and out of windows and fire escapes on the realistic brownstone set on Avenue Q; like its joyful inspiration Sesame Street, it’s a fun lane worthy of stroll.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco
When: 2 and 7 p.m. today and Feb. 27; 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; closes Feb. 27
Tickets: $30 to $99
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com