Having grown up on a steady diet of The Muppet Show (in fact, my father and I even danced to The Muppet theme song at my graduation ball) it's safe to say I am comfy with the idea of puppets on stage.
Puppets remained in my life once I became a parent, with Elmo and his Sesame Street gang keeping my children (okay, and myself) entertained for hours on end, teaching us far more than just how to count or sound out letters.
So not only am I comfy with the idea of puppets on stage, I am also quite au fait with the idea of puppets falling in love, feeling jealous, and experiencing a whole range of human emotions.
Sesame Street this show is not however, and no amount of puppet-packed past was ever going to be enough preparation for 4th Wall Theatre's production of Avenue Q The Musical.
This furry musical comedy from the talented trio of Jeff Whitty, Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez is almost 20 years old yet is as relevant today as it was when it first opened.
The show's storyline is based around Princeton, a recent college graduate, trying to find his purpose in life and uses puppetry and a delivery style familiar to anyone who grew up on a diet of Sesame Street.
Just like Elmo and his friends, Princeton and his new friends, who he meets when he moves into an apartment on Avenue Q, are busy trying to make sense of the world around them and addressing the issues they face.
These issues are a whole lot more grown up than the ones Elmo, Kermit or any other puppets you may be familiar with face however, yet thanks to the clever parodying of those childhood puppet favourites the action on stage has a level of familiarity for everyone in the audience that makes it immediately relatable.
That level of comfort helps the audience as they begin to be confronted with some harsh truths about themselves and their fellow members of the human race as the actors and puppets sing songs that are as challenging in lyrics as they are catchy and upbeat in tempo.
"Everyone's a little bit racist," sing the actors, and the audience hum, sing and nod along. That's the absolute magic of this show, it shines a bright light on some uncomfortable truths about the human race, but does it in a way that is funny, rather than critical.
While the show is undoubtedly well written and designed, it still needs a talented cast and crew to pull it off, and under Samantha Turner's direction it doesn't just pull it off, it tops any puppet show I have ever seen (sorry Elmo).
Every single actor brings fantastic energy to the stage in this performance, and they are all fantastic to watch.
Kelsey McEwan, who plays the dual roles of Princeton's love interest Kate Monster, and her own rival Lucy The Slut, sets a high bar for anyone else wanting to take on either of those roles, let alone both. At times, her two puppet characters argue with each other, and she seamlessly moves her voice between each of them, never missing a beat.
Listening to her sing There's a fine, fine line is one of the highlights of the show, but she isn't the only fantastic singer on stage in this production.
Chrys Podjursky, playing Christmas Eve, is flawless in both acting and singing. She is certainly an actor to watch, with perfect comic timing, and I look forward to seeing her in more productions across Taranaki in the future.
In her role as Christmas Eve, she steals the show at times which is no mean feat given who she shares the stage with. She does spend a lot of time on stage with Brian, played by Adrian Whelan. Brian is Christmas Eve's fiance / husband and matches Chrys when it comes to comic timing and high energy in his performance.
Sonny Deacle, as Princeton, is perfectly cast and he does a fantastic job on stage, making his puppet character really come to life.
Elicia-May Hitchcock, playing former child star Gary Coleman, is another example of excellent casting and when she and Nicky, played by the brilliant Martin Quicke, sing Schadenfreude together they bring real magic to the stage.
Martin is nicely cast as Nicky as it means he spends a lot of the show interacting with fellow puppet character Rod, played by Grayson Richards. This pairing is a well matched duo, with Grayson giving Rod, the uptight Republican banker whose sexuality is the subject of questioning during the show, much more depth and likeability than you would expect (if you were to expect anything of a bright yellow, Republican banker puppet that is).
Kent Robinson's porn obsessed Trekkie Monster gets some of the biggest laughs of the night, but those laughs couldn't drown out the perfect pitch he demonstrates in his solo School for Monsters.
There's a lot of energy on stage throughout the show, but never more than when the Bad Idea Bears (Finlay Morris and Tessa Deacle) are present. These warped, almost evil versions of my childhood friends the Care Bears are absolutely hilarious to watch.
Finlay and Tessa, along with Bayley Sprott who makes a beautifully crabby Mrs Thistletwat, all do a fantastic job, not just in their own roles but as second handers for various puppets who require more than one set of hands to control them.
With so much movement in the show, along with an energetic song list, musical director Phillip Malcolm and choreographer Paula Young must have put in some long hours during rehearsal as the end result is absolutely flawless.
The show is a delight to the senses from start to finish, and will get the audience smiling, laughing and cheering throughout. They'll cringe too, especially when confronted with a puppet sex-scene (now that's a sentence I never expected to write in my professional life).
While the raw material is brilliant, it is thanks to this talented team of actors, crew and of course director that the show is as good as it is on the night. It's no mean feat to tackle issues such as micro-racism, sexuality, unemployment and homelessness and still make people laugh, and everyone involved in 4th wall Theatre's production of Avenue Q The Musical can be rightly proud of what they have pulled off.
If I were to have one criticism, it's that the songs are so darn catchy it is only a matter of time before I catch myself singing The internet is for porn while in a supermarket queue, and for this, I apologise in advance.