The content warning disclaimer is on a prominent lobby sign before entering the theater: full-frontal puppet nudity. Those who might be offended by naked puppets enjoying a loud and rapturous night of libidinous release best avoid the Music Theater Works’ hysterical performance of Avenue Q, the early-aughts paean to the angst of confronting adulthood.

The full cast of the Music Theater Works”Avenue Q.” Credit: Photo by Brett Beiner Photography

Inspired by a satirical version of public television’s Sesame Street and some of its characters, the eight cast members demonstrate superb comic timing, expressive faces and lush singing voices. Thomas E. Squires (Brian), Mai Hartwich (Christmas Eve) and Whitney Dottery (Gary Coleman) play the three human characters, and they are all excellent. 

In the second act, Hartwich smashes her song, “When Your Ruv Someone.” I can’t wait to hear more of her in a different show in the future.

The other five cast members are unconcealed onstage and play puppet characters. Princeton (Jimmy Hogan) is looking for an affordable apartment and winds up finding one on the fictional Avenue Q, located in one of the “outer-outer boroughs” of New York City. 

Princeton is fresh out of college, eager to find his “purpose” but faced with a conundrum, which he sings commandingly in “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” Luckily for him, his parents are helping him out and he’s able to move into the neighborhood. 

Princeton’s neighbors are the winsome kindergarten assistant teacher Kate Monster (Brandy Miller) and the platonic roommates Rod (Adam Ross Brody) and Nicky (Andres J. DeLeon with Melissa Crabtree deftly maneuvering Nicky’s second arm). 

From left, Brandy Miller performs as Kate Monster and Melissa Crabtree and Andres J. DeLeon perform as Trekkie Monster in the Music Theater Works’ “Avenue Q.” Credit: Photo by Brett Beiner Photography

Rod has a secret. Nicky knows the secret and doesn’t care, and gently tries to help Rod acknowledge his sexuality to himself, to no avail.

Sexuality aside, the pair could not be more different: Rod is a compulsively neat Republican investment banker and Nicky is an emotionally generous slacker who seemingly doesn’t have a job but isn’t concerned about it. Somehow they are besties sharing a two-bedroom on Avenue Q. 

The other colorful neighbor is Trekkie Monster, a loud and reclusive Internet porn enthusiast, whose puppet is handled variously by Crabtree and DeLeon. Trekkie’s rousing anthem, “The Internet Is for Porn,” is hilarious.

DeLeon and Crabtree maneuver three and five characters, respectively, including the Bad Idea Bears, a pair of no-goodniks. Crabtree owns the characters of Lucy the Slut, a chanteuse whose primary skill is unrelated to singing, and Mrs. Thistletwat, Kate Monster’s mean boss. Both Crabtree and DeLeon are wonderful, but Crabtree especially shines with Lucy. She is immensely watchable and expressive.

Melissa Crabtree vamps as Lucy in the Music Theater Works’ “Avenue Q.” Credit: Photo by Brett Beiner Photography

These neighbors meet, bond and become a pseudo-family, commiserating and supporting one another when the inevitable rough patches occur. The song, “It Sucks to Be Me” early in the first act summarizes their complaints. It is bookended by the acerbic “Schadenfreude,” sung primarily by Gary Coleman, late in the second act. 

Listen closely as they confront their racial biases in “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” which is still bitingly accurate and funny 20 years after Avenue Q first took the stage Off-Broadway. 

Even intimacy plays out for all to see. Passion is out in the open, declares Gary Coleman and the Bad Idea Bears in “You Can Be As Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love),” hidden, as Rod proclaims in “My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada” or bitter, in Kate’s lament, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”

One quibble: Christmas Eve’s accent is too over-the-top and unnecessary in 2023, but that’s for the show’s creators to update (Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, music and lyrics; book by Jeff Whitty). Overall, Music Theater Works’ production of Avenue Q is a delight. 

Chris Pazdernik directed and choreographed. Musical direction provided by Eugene Dizon; Kristi Martens served as the puppetry trainer. Media design by David Sajewich.

Avenue Q plays at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie) through April 2. Run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission. Buy tickets at or by calling the box office at (847) 673-6300. 

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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