I don’t know how Slow Burn Theatre does it. The Broward company just wrapped up a dazzling production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and artistic director Patrick Fitzwater and his crew are already back with a new show, this time the hilarious, raunchy musical “Avenue Q,” which hasn’t lost many beats since its off-Broadway debut in 2003.
Playing at the cozy Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and Dec. 1-4 at the Aventura Cultural Center, “Avenue Q” reveals just how difficult puppetry can be. Emoting for two (and in some cases more than two) is physically demanding work, and Slow Burn’s energetic cast excels at bringing their inanimate counterparts alive. Remember when you were small enough to think Bert and Ernie seemed real? This is a lot like that, only with puppet sex, songs about porn and a lot of salty language.
Set in a colorful “Sesame Street” world where puppets and humans interact, “Avenue Q” (directed and choreographed by Fitzwater) centers on the residents of a rundown New York City block where young, bright-eyed college grad Princeton (Rick Peña) moves in. Broke and unemployed, Princeton quickly becomes as disillusioned as his struggling neighbors but finds hope in the possibility of romance with Kate Monster (Nicole Piro). But as anyone can tell you, the course of true love between a boy and a monster never did flow smoothly.
Peña, who also acts as Rod, a closeted Republican in love with his dopey roommate Nicky (Christian Vandepas), is an appealing Princeton, and Piro, who also voices the vampy Lucy, knocks it out of the park on “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” the heartfelt solo that closes the first act. Last seen creeping out audiences in Thinking Cap Theatre’s disturbing “Mud,” Vandepas proves himself wildly versatile, slipping into a dizzying array of voices, including porn-addicted Trekkie Monster and one of two Bad Idea Bears (the other is Lissa Grossman Comess) who inspire much of Princeton’s questionable behavior. Now we know who’s responsible for all the fighting on social media after the election.
Most songs in “Avenue Q” are gleefully politically incorrect, including “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn.” The statement bears repeating: This play is not for kids or the easily offended. Everybody else will have a great time. The show is so much fun that even its biggest anachronism — the character of actor Gary Coleman, who died in real life in 2010, and is played with saucy swagger by Juanita B. Green — is easy to shrug off. We are, after all, watching a bunch of singing puppets.
The show’s intimate setting works well, the simple set (designed by Sean McClelland) and lighting (by Jayson Tomasheski) recreating this trash-can-and-windows world with little fuss. The show ends on “For Now,” the most hopeful cynical song ever, reminding us how fleeting everything in life is. Fortunately, thanks to Slow Burn, “Avenue Q” is constant in its ability to make us laugh.
If You Go
What: ‘Avenue Q’; music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; book by Jeff Whitty
Fort Lauderdale shows: 1 and 6 p.m. Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16-19, 1 p.m. Nov. 19, 1 and 6 p.m. Nov. 20, Abdo New River Room, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; $45; slowburntheatre.org
Aventura shows: 8 p.m. Dec. 1-3, 2 p.m. Dec. 4; Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura, Dec. 1-4; $40 and $45; www.aventuracenter.org