‘Avenue Q’ hits all the right notes

“The puppets are cute. I want one.”

When I told my brother that they were rare and expensive artifacts, he considered it carefully. Then he adjusted his glasses, went up to one of the cast members bearing a puppet, interrogated him, and returned.

“I still want one.”

Cadre Kerr’s production of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s celebrated Avenue Q—or, as the playbook introduces it, “Sesame Street meets South Park”—opened on Friday, January 18. The first musical Cadre Kerr has performed in three years, it was greeted with thunderous applause, and for good reason: it soundly delivered on promises of puppets, a resonant and heartwarming storyline, and catchy tunes that will be stuck in my head for at least a week. I honestly think this is the single best show I have seen in my two-and-a-half years of watching Black Box productions. The single best.

The puppets, as my brother said, were adorable, allowing characters’ emotions to be channeled more animatedly. The puppets’ interactions with the human characters were both believable and organic, and being able to see the actors’ faces and bodies did not take away from their performance at all. In fact, many actors’ facial expressions and body language reflected and extended their vocal performances, conveying emotion where the puppets’ faces could not.

One of the few disappointing elements was the sound. Because many actors sang with the aid of a microphone, their amplified voices sometimes sounded disconnected from them because they came from a different source. On the other hand, using microphones took away the need for projection, allowing characters quiet moments and understated soliloquies that would not have been possible otherwise.

Most of the cast turned in strong vocal and acting performances, but the standout was definitely sophomore Melissa R. as female protagonist Kate Monster. Melissa’s acting, which tended more toward the understated than the exaggerated, was well suited for portraying the sweet, earnest Kate. Her clear articulation, good vibrato, and range served her well and culminated in her solo “It’s a Fine, Fine Line” at the end of the first act, which was heartbreaking, vulnerable, and emotionally raw. Other performances of note included junior Tam T. as the delightfully hammy but touchingly maternal Christmas Eve, and sophomore Junyuan T. and Wallace W. as internally conflicted conservative Rod and his roommate Nikki, respectively.

I was thoroughly impressed by this play. While the language and content have been scrubbed to school-appropriate, the jokes were still funny, and themes like racism, poverty, and sexuality were addressed with loving levity and insight. I think this play resonates especially at Kerr, which is (like Avenue Q) a haven for outcasts and quirky characters, a place that’s not the nicest neighborhood but feels like home.

Cadre Kerr will perform three more shows of Avenue Q, on Thursday, January 24; Friday, January 25, and Saturday, January 26. Doors open at 6:30 P.M. All shows will begin at 7:00 P.M., but viewers are advised to arrive early. With a show like this, those seats will go fast, filled with audience members who will be, as my little brother says, “Mind blown. Brains everywhere.”