August 08, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

It may look like Sesame Street, with puppets and humans living and learning together, but make no mistake: The lessons on Avenue Q could make Big Bird molt. This classroom still aims to educate — the score is toe-tapping and instructional — but the topics examine the, er, furrier aspects of growing up (take the jaw-droppingly hilarious tune ”Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”). Q’s motley crew includes a monster who sings of his love of Internet porn, a closeted gay Republican, and two innocents engaged in hot puppet sex — all brought to life by remarkable puppeteers who seem to morph into the characters they animate. Hands (and paws) down, the Off Broadway transfer is the smartest, most perverse puppet show in town. This review is brought to you by the letter A. (TC)

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