The innocence of childhood meets the realities of adulthood in the Broadway musical, “Avenue Q.” Its clever mix of “Sesame Street”-style songs and videos, combined with contemporary social issues, makes it a challenge to stage. Raleigh Little Theatre’s production handily surmounts that challenge with crowd-pleasing results.
The main characters are rod-manipulated puppets, with actors visibly operating them. But this is definitely not a children’s show. Its frank, sometimes crude language and examination of racial and sexual issues make it rate at least PG-13. It’s a credit to creators Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty that the show is so laugh-out-loud funny while hitting home with hard truths about loneliness, prejudice and self-worth.
The musical follows the misadventures of new college graduate Princeton as he looks for an apartment, a job and a relationship. He meets and falls for Kate, one of several monster characters, who suffers discrimination for being different.
Director Jesse R. Gephart gets the right balance of silly and serious, with peppy pacing and vivid characterizations. Aaron Boles’ Princeton is endearingly naive, his strong voice and expressive range abetted by a real feel for giving his puppet life. Brett Williams matches him as Kate, her comic timing spot-on and her singing heartfelt, particularly in the moving “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.” Lydia D. Kinton wows the audience with her sassy temptress Lucy in the show-stopping song, “Special.”
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Operating at nearly the same level are Bradley Waelbroeck’s in-the-closet banker Rod; Freddy Perkins’ happy-go-lucky Nicky, Rod’s roommate; and Aubrey Comperatore’s porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster. Brett Yates’ stand-up comedian Brian; Alex Matsuo’s Christmas Eve, Brian’s Asian girlfriend; and Brandi Parker’s apartment superintendent Gary also get laughs, despite not fully exploring their roles’ possibilities. Mary Bain and Matthew Sheaffer round out the cast efficiently in various small roles. Several actors use voice characterizations pitched too high, causing some laugh lines to be missed.
Music director Katherine Anderson leads a first-rate band, positioned atop the apartment building. Duncan Jenner and Miyuki Su’s constantly surprising sets, Jenny Mitchell and Vicki Olson’s heightened costumes and Kevin Roberge’s puppet designs contribute to the overall amusing atmosphere.
No one except the easily offended should think twice about attending this humorous, humane production.
What: “Avenue Q”
Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. June 8-10, 15-17, 22-24; 3 p.m. June 11, 18, 25
Tickets: $28 (seniors/students $24)
Info: 919-821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org