comscore 'Avenue' explores issues with pointed hilarity | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

‘Avenue’ explores issues with pointed hilarity

    Chris Villasenor, left, and Eric Manke rehearse for “Avenue Q,” now playing at Manoa Valley Theatre. Garett Taketa is in the background.

They look like Muppets but sound at times like "gangsta" rappers. Welcome to Manoa Valley Theatre’s production of "Avenue Q."

‘Avenue Q’

» Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through April 3
» Cost: $39 (some discounts available)
» Info: 988-6131,
» Note: Recommended for ages 14 and older

The Tony Award-winning musical comedy is a parental-guidance-suggested take on "Sesame Street" but not a point-by-point parody. There’s a character named Trekkie Monster, and two others that could be cousins-once-removed of Bert and Ernie, but playwright Jeff Whitty builds on the similarities with different character types and refreshing politically incorrect themes.

Princeton, a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English, arrives on the avenue looking for employment and a place to live. He starts on Avenue A but has to trek all the way down to Q to reach a neighborhood within his budget.

His new neighbors include Trekkie Monster, two men named Rod and Nicky who share an apartment, an unemployed Jewish comedian, the comedian’s loud and abrasive Japanese wife, and Kate Monster, a cute but lonely bachelorette who describes herself as a person "of fur."

The building superintendent is Gary Coleman, the down-on-his-luck former child star, played at MVT with a superb blend of comedy attitude and spunk by Allison L.B. Maldonado.

Princeton and his neighbors explore adult issues with hilarious "Sesame Street"-style songs — "If You Were Gay," "Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist," "The Internet Is for Porn" and "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love)." That last song is the platform for the famous — or infamous, it’s your call — sex scene in which two naked puppets loudly explore various sexual positions while other cast members do a song-and-dance number nearby. The explicitness of the scene is tempered slightly by the fact the puppet figures exist only from the waist up; everything below the waist is filled in by the viewers’ imaginations.

The opening-night audience must have had vivid imaginations. The sex scene got some of the loudest laughs of the evening.

The puppeteers are seen throughout the show and contribute much of its impact by skillfully mirroring the emotions of the characters they’re animating. Start with Elitei Tatafu Jr. (Princeton) and Jody Bill (Kate Monster) as the engaging and appealing romantic leads; Bill’s big solo number, "There’s a Fine, Fine Line," closes Act 1 with the most touching noncomic number in the show.

Jac Ryan Galliano (Trekkie Monster) is an instant audience favorite as the irrepressible free spirit who proves to Kate Monster’s discomfort that the Internet is indeed "for porn." Chris Villasenor (Rod) plays against type as the guy everyone else thinks is gay, and Eric Manke (Nicky) plays Rod’s roommate as an earnest, well-meaning Ernie sound-alike.

Jen Dickensen (Lucy the Slut) has several solid numbers as the neighborhood temptress, and Braddoc DeCaires and Miguel Pa’ekukui are a delightful duo as the Bad Idea Bears — a twosome who invariably try to entice others into irresponsible behavior.

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