When little children watch television programs such as “Sesame Street,” many see bright and bubbly messages about how special each of them is and how their dreams can come true.
When they hit “the real world” as young adults, the realities of finding a job, a place to live and adjusting to the people you meet along the way can quickly set in.
Such is the subject of the light-hearted “Avenue Q,” a raucous and ribald Broadway musical presented by The Little Theatre of Alexandria starting Saturday and running through Aug. 17.
The satirical show, with its mix of people and puppets, is intended for mature audiences because of its adult themes, language and situations.
“Humor is not just about puns and witticisms – it’s also about the human condition,” said director Frank Shutts.
Among the nearly two dozen numbers are “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “If You Were Gay,” “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell as You Want (When You’re Making Love)” and “The Internet is for Porn.”
“If you don’t like ‘South Park’ or that sort of humor, you might be offended,” Shutts said.
But at the same time, the show is also an homage to “Sesame Street,” Shutts said, because without those early messages of hope and encouragement, people may never even try to pursue their dreams.
Shutts said watching the show as a child piqued his interest in the theater, and at one point he had dreams of directing on Broadway. Although that dream didn’t come to pass, he’s nonetheless directing and doing something he loves.
“It gives you the ability to hope, as ‘Avenue Q’ brings reality into perspective,” he said.
The story is about Princeton, a puppet and a recent college graduate with an English degree, who goes looking for an apartment and finally finds one he can afford on Avenue Q, where he meets people that become his friends.
The two-act musical won three Tony Awards in 2004 for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre.
None of the songs became pop mega-hits during the Broadway run from 2003 to 2009, but Shutts said, “Once you hear them, you won’t forget them.”
Some are sung in the Broadway style and others mimic the songs on children’s shows, he said.
The Little Theatre’s eight-member cast includes people and puppet characters, and some of the actors play multiple roles voicing and/or manipulating the puppets.
The human characters are Brian, an aspiring comedian; Christmas Eve, a Japanese therapist; and Gary Coleman, the building super modeled on the late Gary Coleman, a child actor best known for “Diff’rent Strokes” who went bankrupt as an adult. The character is typically played by a woman, whose typically higher voice is closer to that of a child, Shutts said.
In addition to Princeton, some of the other puppets include Kate Monster, a kindergarten teacher’s assistant; Rod, a repressed Republican banker; Rod’s roommate, Nicky; Lucy the Slut and Trekkie Monster, who spends his time looking for pornography on the Internet.
Shutts said working with puppets, which the company rents from the musical’s licensing company, was a departure for The Little Theatre, which typically presents two musicals, a drama or a mystery, and five comedies during the year, plus a holiday show.
Shutts said he and Kristina Hopkins, who plays Kate Monster, had some experience working with puppets, and the theater also brought in Kristopher Kauff, who worked with puppets in Florida and has been coaching the actors in how to work with them on stage.
“It’s really unique – we’re having a blast doing it,” said Shutts, who predicts the audience will too.
“If you’ve got an open mind and love comedy that’s both witty and ribald, you’ll have a good time,” he said.