At first glimpse, “Avenue Q” appears as though it might be located right around the corner from Sesame Street. But Jim Henson’s troupe never flirted with an R rating.
The salacious patter — and two puppets making whoopee — is what makes the difference, and it’s great fun to watch this animated escapade at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
What probably wouldn’t work with an all-human cast comes across as delightfully raunchy in this lively production under the direction of Scott Silson, ironically a Disney puppet master who’s also dwelt on Sesame Street.
The show crackles with blue invective, but rarely enough to repel more traditionalist audience members. Yes, there’s that makeout scene, but it’s done for laughs, as is the rest of this lusty musical comedy from Jeff Whitty with music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, who won Tony awards for best musical, score and book.
“Avenue Q” also pokes fun at homophobia and racism. The latter subject gets a thorough going-over in the lively musical number “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”
Undisguised actors propel the puppets and one, Melissa Musial, scores as both the lead, Kate Monster, and her sultry rival, Lucy T. Slut. Both Kate’s boyfriend, Princeton, and the gay guy, Rod, are operated by Cole Fletcher.
Zachary Balagot controls the confused Nicky and the belligerent Trekkie Monster, a sort of combination of Cookie Monster and Oscar the grouch. The “Bad Idea Bears,” who attempt to lead other puppets astray, are energized by Rachel Williams and Andrew Cano.
They’re joined by a trio of human actors who coexist on the avenue. Peter Hilton is quite effective as a jobless hulk, while Bachi Dillague hits a high note as his girlfriend and later bride named Christmas Eve.
There’s also Gary Coleman — yes, that Gary Coleman — as the apartment manager, well played in the female persona of Natasha Reese. Her snappy chatter adds a measure of sass to the show.
Behind Bradley Kaye’s attractive urban setting, music director and bassist Briana Harley conducts a lively five-piece combo, punctuating such downer numbers as “It Sucks to Be Me” and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.” There’s even a sly tribute to enjoying someone else's misfortune, called “Schadenfreude.”
“Avenue Q” is a very funny lampoon of Sesame Street wholesomeness with a catchy musical score that will have many toes tapping at the Costa Mesa Playhouse. Just don’t bring the kids.
IF YOU GO
What: “Avenue Q”
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 21
Call: (949) 650-5269 or CostaMesaPlayhouse.com