‘Sesame Street’ for grown-ups

North Hennepin Community College presents award-winning ‘Avenue Q’

Avenue Q is a shabby New York street where more puppets live than people and where monsters are friends.

Left to right, Sara Gusdal of Brooklyn Park, Michael Turner of Plymouth and Carter Roeske of Maple Grove rehearse a scene from “Avenue Q” with their puppets April 9 at North Hennepin Community College. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Left to right, Sara Gusdal of Brooklyn Park, Michael Turner of Plymouth and Carter Roeske of Maple Grove rehearse a scene from “Avenue Q” with their puppets April 9 at North Hennepin Community College. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

It’s a bit like an adult version of Sesame Street, and it’s the setting for the Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q,” opening at North Hennepin Community College Friday, April 19.

In the show Princeton, a recent college graduate, moves into an apartment on Avenue Q, where the superintendent is actor Gary Coleman. The humorous story follows Princeton and his friends on Avenue Q as they seek their purposes in life, deal with adult-themed issues and make mistakes.

“It’s really about a group of 20-somethings trying to find their way in the world,” director Mike Ricci said.

Ricci chose the play because he loved it when he saw it on Broadway.

“It was funny. It was moving,” he said. “It’s one of those stories we can all say ‘I’ve been there.’”

He also said the college’s past two performances have been serious dramas, so he wanted this final production of the school year to be a lighter, more humorous piece to balance out the season.

Steve Modena of Wayzata, left, and Michael Turner of Plymouth rehearse a scene from “Avenue Q” April 9 at North Hennepin Community College. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Steve Modena of Wayzata, left, and Michael Turner of Plymouth rehearse a scene from “Avenue Q” April 9 at North Hennepin Community College. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Most of the characters in the musical are Muppet-style puppets, but unlike in Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show,” the puppeteers are visible to the audience.

“The trick is how to get the audience to focus on the puppet and not on the performer,” Ricci said.

Cast member Jenny Reierson, of Minneapolis, agrees. She plays “Lucy the Slut” and other puppet characters.

“You have to tone back your facial expressions so you don’t upstage your puppet, but you have to match your puppet,” she said.

Cast members rehearse a musical number from “Avenue Q” with their puppets April 9 at North Hennepin Community College. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Cast members rehearse a musical number from “Avenue Q” with their puppets April 9 at North Hennepin Community College. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Beyond the technical aspects, wielding a puppet is plain hard work.

“I think the weight is the most difficult part of it,” Reierson said.

The puppets – which were designed for North Hennepin by a professional who created the Swedish Chef for “The Muppet Show” – can weigh a few pounds.

“You get a work out doing this,” said Bryn Tanner of Brooklyn Park, who plays “Trekkie Monster,” one of the heaviest puppets.

Despite the challenges, puppets offer advantages too.

“For me … puppets give you license to say anything,” Ricci said. “The puppets can get away with being more open and honest, because it wasn’t me who said it – it was the puppet.”

And the puppets say some shocking things. Although this show is reminiscent of the “The Muppet Show” or “Sesame Street,” it’s not for kids.

Ricci says the show is hilarious but is quick to tell people it’s R-rated. It contains swearing, adult themes and shows puppets having sex.

“It’s definitely more of an open-minded show that kind of pokes fun at a lot of serious issues,” Reierson said.

Tanner agrees, but says it’s more than that.

“As funny as the show is, there’s a lot of heart, too,” he said. “I think it’s a very easy show to connect to.”

 

If you go

What: “Avenue Q” the musical.

When: 7:30 p.m. April 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27; 2 p.m. April 21 and 24. Performances on April 20 and 27 will have an American Sign Language interpreter.

Where: North Hennepin Comunity College, 7411 85th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park.

Cost: Adults $10, seniors and students $7, matinees $7.

Info: nhcc.edu/events.

NOTE: This show is not appropriate for children. No one under age 16 will be admitted without a parent.

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