Calling this 2004 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, Book and Score edgy is like saying that pornography is risque. It's much more than that! And speaking of pornography, that's just one of the mature topics explored in this really clever show, which includes racism, homosexuality and the search for one's purpose in life. The musical's uniqueness comes from (despite announcements to the contrary) the show's blatant rip-off of a certain PBS educational children's TV program. In fact, just like on "Sesame Street," the cast consists of both human actors and fuzzy, Muppet-like characters. Since much of the dialogue and many of the songs are liberally peppered with profanity, and the play comes with a warning about its adult language and content and "full puppet nudity," this is definitely not a musical comedy suitable for children.
The story takes place on a rundown street of tenements in an outer borough of New York, and features puppet characters Princeton, a recent college grad, and Kate Monster, an elementary teacher aide, roommates Rod and Nicky (Bert and Ernie look-alikes), Trekkie Monster (a dead ringer for Cookie Monster), Lucy the Slut (the Pamela Anderson of puppetdom) and others, plus human characters Brian, a failed standup comic, his Japanese social worker fiancée Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman. Yes, THAT Gary Coleman, the child star from TV's "Different Strokes," now forced to work as the super of the apartments. Also like "Sesame Street," animated lessons are projected from time-to-time on two television screens that drop down from the rafters of the stage.
This return non-Equity production features a very talented, tightly knit ensemble of likable young actor/singer/puppeteers, most of whom play several roles and often at the very same time. Jacqueline Grabois is fantastic as both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut. Her powerhouse vocals and energetic, spunky characterizations set the pace for this show. Brent Michael DiRoma, playing both Princeton and Rod, and Michael Liscio, Jr., as the man of a thousand voices who gives life to Nicky, Trekkie Monster, one of the Bad Idea Bears and other characters, are superb in all their roles. Sometimes the deafening sound amplification makes Lisa Helmi Johanson's Christmas Eve difficult to understand, but otherwise the actress is terrific.
Sets, costumes and puppets matched the Broadway and National Touring company, with the only major difference being that Gary Coleman is actually played with gusto by actor Nigel Jamaal Clark this time around rather than by an actress. All in all this production is certainly worth a visit, especially for audiences who haven't seen it before. Just be liberal-minded and come prepared to laugh.