Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon invites people to look at society through the lens of a “bawdy,” “politically incorrect” and “hilarious” musical comedy.
“Avenue Q” also is considered ground-breaking because human actors and puppets tell the story of twentysomethings learning how to live and love in New York City.
“Think ‘Sesame Street’ with adult themes, humor and song,” read the playbill for the original production, which opened on Broadway in 2003.
“It is one of the most honest but biting social satires that I have seen on Broadway,” said Gigi Dowling Urban, who seems to be having a blast directing the Lebanon show.
“It picks fun at everyone, and it gives people a chance to examine their own prejudices without beating them over the head.”
The community theater group will perform “Avenue Q” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Feb. 4-6, and 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 7 on its historic stage at 301 W. St. Louis St.
Themes and humor are geared toward older teens and adults, not children, a point reinforced by descriptions of the 11 puppet characters.
Lucy is a lounge singer with a revealing leopard outfit, heavy makeup and a navel piercing. Rod is a Republican investment banker with a wire-rimmed glasses and a suit.
We’re here to offend all groups. It’s equal opportunity. No one will feel left out.
Gigi Dowling Urban on show’s humor
“He’s a Republican and a closeted homosexual,” Gigi said. “We’re here to offend all groups. It’s equal opportunity. No one will feel left out.”
The catchy song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” pokes fun at people who get offended by jokes about those within their race or ethnicity but see no problem laughing at others.
Rob’s friend, Nicky, sings “If You were Gay” to assure him it would be OK to come out of the closet. Trekkie Monster makes no secret of his favorite pastime in “The Internet is for Porn.”
“It’s a neat show,” said orchestra conductor Rob Buchanan, 55, of Chatham, an accountant and former Edwardsville resident who commutes 90 minutes each way to participate.
“It’s definitely adult-themed, but when you listen to the lyrics, they talk about life and purpose and doing things for others. It’s like, ‘Hey, people, stop taking yourselves so seriously.’”
The elaborate hand-and-rod puppets in “Avenue Q” are rented. Some even have costume changes with clothing, jewelry, hats and eyeglasses.
Puppeteers are dressed in black but unconcealed, so the audience can see them bring characters to life through dialogue, song and dance. Three human actors round out the cast.
One is Joshua Peebels, 30, of Swansea, who plays Gary Coleman, an apartment-building superintendent based on the former black child star on the TV show “Diff’rent Strokes.”
“We have some fun with it,” said Joshua, a sign-language interpreter who has performed improv and has taught ballroom dance.
I’m white with long hair and a lumberjack beard. I could not be any more opposite from Gary Coleman. But I am short.
Joshua Peebels on his role
“I’m white with long hair and a lumberjack beard. I could not be any more opposite from Gary Coleman. But I am short.”
The lead puppet character is a struggling college graduate named Princeton, played by Tyler Woods, 19, of Trenton, a theater major at Kaskaskia College in Centralia.
Princeton rents an apartment on Avenue Q and discovers that many of his neighbors have their own challenges and unfulfilled dreams. They commiserate in the song, “It Sucks to be Me.”
“What do you do with a B.A. in English?” Princeton asks. “What is my life going to be? Four years of college, and plenty of knowledge, have earned me this useless degree.
“I can’t pay the bills yet, ’cause I have no skills yet. The world is a big scary place. But somehow I can’t shake, the feeling I might make, a difference to the human race!”
Princeton has a yellow face, black hair and big round eyes. Tyler makes him seem human by using his right hand and thumb to move the puppet’s head and mouth and rods to guide his arms.
Tyler is one of the most experienced puppeteers in the cast. He’s been practicing the art since joining his church’s puppet ministry in fifth grade.
“That’s what I would like to do someday,” he said, noting his mentor is a puppeteer at Walt Disney World in Florida.
The other lead puppet character in “Avenue Q” is Kate Monster, Princeton’s love interest, played by Megan Noll, of Swansea.
The production won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book for a Musical and Best Original Score in 2004. It moved off-Broadway five years later after 2,534 performances and continues to run.
“People should not shy away from it because it’s not P.C.,” Gigi said. “It’s done with a sense of great fun. None of it is gratuitous. Everything advances the story.”
At a glance
- What: “Avenue Q”
- Where: Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St. in Lebanon
- When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Feb. 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 7
- Admission: $10 for adults and $9 for seniors 60 and older, students and military personnel with ID on Thursdays and Sundays; $12 and $11 on Fridays and Saturdays
- Reservations: Visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com or call 618-537-4962 (online ticket purchases allow people to select their own seats)