‘Avenue Q’ gives adult twist to Muppets

Kerri Brackin (from left), Nicky, Rod and Brent Michael DiRoma in “Avenue Q,” which uses puppets and actors to tell the story of a college graduate trying to survive in New York City. Credit: Courtesy of John Daughtry/News & Record

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Most women can’t go without their iPhones or lipstick. Kerri Brackin doesn’t know what to do with herself when she doesn’t have a puppet with her.

Brackin is one of 12 performers creating laughs and gasps on stage for the Avenue Q 2010 tour, which will come to Greensboro Friday and Saturday.

The tour, which will travel to about 70 cities this year and will end June 26 in Ottawa, Ontario, began in September.

“Avenue Q” tells the story of Princeton, a recent college graduate who moves to New York City with big dreams and discovers the color of life through issues, including race, pornography, sexual orientation and sex itself. Puppets and humans create the adult-themed humor and stories in the production.

The show, whose characters are mirrors of the “Sesame Street” characters, began in 2003, ending its Broadway production on Sept. 13.

The main roles Brackin plays are Mrs. T (a kindergarten teacher) and one of the Bad Idea Bears, which is her favorite role. The Bad Idea Bears are Care Bearlike characters, who innocently try to manipulate people into giving in to their desires. They function as shoulder devils. Later in the performance, they convert to Scientology.

Brackin also plays the second hand to the Nicky and Trekkie Monster characters. Nicky is a parody of Ernie from “Sesame Street” and is a messy and jobless roommate. The Trekkie Monster is a Cookie Monster parody who is addicted to Internet porn instead of cookies.

“My particular part in the show is very, very puppet-heavy,” she said. “I work with literally every single puppet in the entire show.”

But performing with puppets wasn’t first nature to Brackin.

“It was the craziest thing,” she said. “It made the rehearsal process very, very different from anything I had ever done before, especially in terms of a musical theater kind of setting.”

Brackin began performing at age 8 in professional musical theater productions.

Feeling the need to “do the whole high school, college thing,” she said, Brackin took several years off to get her undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma. She attended law school for a year at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and got a master’s degree in psychology from Pace University.

She had the itch to go to New York City to begin performing again and soon was on stage. Before “Avenue Q,” she toured with the production of “Hairspray.”

When Brackin got called back to audition with “Avenue Q,” she attended a “puppet camp” and got her first experience with the fuzzy characters.

“Originally in rehearsals, it was so much about the technical aspects of it, opposed to acting, singing,” she said. “It was so much about the puppets.

“Now, it’s almost kind of become second nature. I don’t know what I do when I don’t have a puppet on my arm.”

And those puppets don’t come with family-friendly slapstick humor. “Avenue Q” is known for its profanity and adult themes.

Brackin, who comes from a conservative family, had to warn her family what to expect when they saw the production, she said.

“But honestly, I think that the majority of audiences and most of the people that come &ellipses;they enjoy it, and there’s something for everyone in the show,” she said. “It is really cool to see how the different audiences across the country react to it.”

For Brackin, the audiences are what make the show.

“We’ve had a lot of really great cities we’ve gotten to play recently, and I think that the audiences really don’t know what a huge impact they make on us as the actors on the stage,” she said.

“They’ve been fantastic, and it makes it that much more fun for us.”