Avenue Q: When puppets populate

PALM DESERT -- Tim Kornblum was weaned on Sesame Street, the innovative children’s TV show on PBS that spawned Kermit, Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy and more. So there’s some delicious irony in his now appearing as an adult in a play that is, in a sense, an homage to Sesame Street and the much-loved puppets that captured the hearts and minds of a generation.

Avenue Q is an award-winning Broadway musical largely inspired by those children shows in which humans and puppets co-exist, helping each other navigate life’s lessons. In Avenue Q, however, the lessons take on decidedly adult proportions—sort of a Sesame Street on Viagra.

Avenue Q, which comes to the McCallum Theatre stage for five performances, March 5-7, is a story about real life in New York City as told by a cast of people and puppets. Princeton is a bright-eyed college grad who moves to the city with big dreams and a tiny bank account. The only apartment he can afford is way out on Avenue Q, where everyone’s looking for the same things he is: a decent job, a stable relationship, and a “purpose.” Eventually, Princeton learns to embrace the ups and downs of city life and realizes that “the real world” isn’t so bad after all.

The play’s message, says Kornblum, is that “life is gonna suck and it’s gonna throw you a lot of curve balls, but as long as you don’t forget who you are, you’re still gonna come out of it on top.”

Kornblum plays Brian, one of the few ‘people’ among the puppets. “Brian’s one of the few human characters on the block. He is a failed stand-up comedian. He’s currently unemployed, trying to find his place in life. Basically I like to look at him as a seven-year-old,” he explains during a recent interview with The BottomLine.

The purpose of ‘people’ in the show, as Kornblum sees it, is to provide some degree of realism. Referring to shows like Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock, Kornblum says the human characters kept the shows grounded.

In the case of Avenue Q, Brian is probably the most normal, or most grounded human character in the show, says Kornblum. “The other humans are Gary Coleman and Christmas Eve, a stereotypical Japanese woman. They’re there so that at the most minimal, the audience can relate to the fact that there are actual humans there, and it also helps to bring everything home with regard to accepting everyone as they are.”

With a score that features irreverent numbers such as “It Sucks to Be Me,” “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today,” “The Internet is for Porn” and “What Do You Do with a BA in English?,” it’s no wonder Avenue Q has enjoyed so much staying power. It’s funny as hell.

“We’ve gotten really great compliments pretty much everywhere we’ve gone,” says Kornblum. “But there’ve definitely been a few places where it’s been a rough crowd, particularly in the more conservative areas.”

It’s also a show with tendencies—homosexual tendencies. Bert and Ernie tendencies. And songs like “If You Were Gay.” Just one more reason why it stands to be well-received when it hits the desert next month.

“There’s Ron, who’s a gay character—but throughout the entire show there are a lot of characters who have to be accepted for something that’s slightly different about them and I think that’s a huge aspect,” says Kornblum about the show’s popularity within the gay community. “And the fact that it’s musical theater,” he adds with a laugh, “is a big aspect. But the whole show is based on this idea of love and trust and respect for everybody, so I think it appeals to a gay audience just as much as it would to any audience.”

If You Go— Avenue Q at the McCallum Theatre, Friday, March 5 at 8 pm, Saturday, March 6 at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sunday, March 7 at 2 pm and 7 pm. Tickets are $85/65/55/45, and are available by calling the McCallum Theatre Box Office at 760.340.ARTS or online at mccallumtheatre.com. McCallum Theatre, located at 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert.