Settle in, boys and girls. Today’s lessons: it sucks to be you, everyone’s a little bit racist, and the internet is for porn.
'If you’re looking for musical fun with a bit of edge, this superb production will be right up your alley.' -Joff Schmidt
Those are all titles (more or less) of songs from Avenue Q - the 2003 Broadway hit seeing its second Winnipeg production in the last two years, this time courtesy of Winnipeg Studio Theatre. And if you find the titles offensive, take a detour around Avenue Q. But if you’re looking for musical fun with a bit of edge, this superb production will be right up your alley.
The Gen X-friendly story (with book by Jeff Whitty) centres around Princeton, a recent university graduate searching for his “special purpose.” His journey leads him to the low-rent, slightly down-and-out Avenue Q.
Princeton is also, like most of the musical’s characters, a puppet - rod and hand puppets interact with human characters here a la Sesame Street. It all gives Avenue Q a sweet, nostalgic base - on which is piled doses of raunchy, politically-incorrect humour.
Princeton and his neighbours struggle together with a range of typically 20-something problems. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s tunes deal with finding jobs (Princeton’s opening solo, “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?,” drew knowing chuckles from some older members of the audience); relationships (the soul number “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)” accompanies a randy, and hilarious, puppet sex scene); and the neighbourhood’s cultural diversity (“Ethnic jokes may be uncouth/ But you laugh because they’re based on truth” Princeton and his crush Kate Monster sing in “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”).
Director Kayla Gordon’s eight-person cast of young, local talent take it all on with gleeful good cheer, and performances are solid across the board. Aaron Hutton’s Princeton and Paula Potosky’s Kate Monster give us a charismatic couple to cheer for.
But everyone gets a turn to shine. Lisa Bell delivers a spirited performance as Avenue Q’s superintendent, former child star Gary Coleman; Dorothy Carroll does a great, slinky rendition of the torch song “Special,” sung by Lucy the Slut; Andrea Macasaet shows off a powerhouse voice as Christmas Eve, the acerbic therapist; the versatile Darren Martens was a crowd favourite as the porn-addicted Trekkie Monster and one of the Bad Idea Bears (along with Carroll), who enthusiastically and adorably encourage all kinds of bad behaviour; Aaron Pridham does a nice turn as the button-down, closeted Rod; and Jeremy Koz is likeable as Brian, the wanna-be stand-up comedian.
They’re backed by a live five-person band, headed up by Paul De Gurse, who provide solid accompaniment and keep the show’s catchy musical numbers lively.
It all amounts to slightly naughty, but still basically good-natured, fun. And even after more than a decade, Avenue Q’s message - that it might suck to be you, but all things are temporary - still seems to speak to a youthful audience. The crowd at Saturday’s sold-out show skewed considerably younger than a typical theatre audience. But even those who were well past their 20s seemed thoroughly entertained by Avenue Q.
I guess you’re never too old to learn the important lessons - as long as there’s some solid entertainment with your education.
Winnipeg Studio Theatre’s production of Avenue Q runs at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre until April 13.