As long as there is latent racism, widespread fixation on internet porn and young people stumped by their purpose in life – three subjects explored in bouncy, infectious songs – then Avenue Q, the adult Sesame Street-inspired show populated by puppets, will probably be around.
And if it is produced with the care and skill that MNM Theatre Company brings to the task, the lesson-laden, tongue-in-cheek musical will keep audiences well entertained for the foreseeable future. In this case, however, you only have until June 10 to catch this endearing, though foul-mouthed show, so head to the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse for an off-color good time.
Bruce Linser, who has directed some of MNM’s best efforts, does not break much new ground with this production – OK, there are a couple of good added Trump jokes – but it delivers on all the show’s “did they really just say that?” humor with an assured wink. Without putting his personal stamp on the show, Linser seems to be aiming the evening at those who are Avenue Q newbies, but if you want to remind yourself why you previously enjoyed this devilish little musical, this will do as well.
In a crowded community of quirky characters, Avenue Q centers on Princeton (voiced and manipulated by Wesley Slade), a recent liberals arts graduate, which means he is largely unemployable. Having begun at Avenue A and found it too pricey for his means, he ran down the alphabet before settling on the affordable, fictional title neighborhood.
He is eagerly accepted by the longtime residents – stand-up comic wannabe Brian (J.R. Coley) and his Japanese girlfriend Christmas Eve (Jayne Ng), preppy Republican Rod (Michael Scott Ross), in denial about being gay, his unkempt but amiable roommate Nicky (Rick Pena) and the building superintendent, Gary Coleman (Nayomi Braaf) of TV’s Diff’rent Strokes.
Princeton has barely unpacked his boxes of stuff when he is introduced to Kate Monster (Kate Ryan), a kindergarten teacher-in-training with a romantic streak. Kate and Princeton’s on-off relationship, her yen to create a school for underserved monsters and Princeton’s search for a purpose in life are the crux of Avenue Q, but it frequently puts the plot on pause for a jaunty, tangential song.
The score is by Robert Lopez (who wrote the power ballad-heavy Frozen) and Jeff Marx, both credited with the show’s original concept. Early on, they set the show’s tone with a chipper ensemble plaint, “It Sucks to Be Me.” With a similar blithe spirit, the cast is soon conceding that “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” And in the second act, they endeavor to increase our vocabulary by introducing us to Schadenfreude, the German word for deriving pleasure from the misery of others.
The MNM cast is quite adept at bringing the hand-and-stick puppets to life, coached by Paul Louis, who also handles loud-mouthed but soft-hearted Trekkie Monster. Rather than have his human puppeteers fade away, Linser gives them a bit of visibility with rhythmic head tilts and a little peppy choreography. Pena, Nicole Piro (Lucy the Slut) and Courtney Poston (Bad Idea Bear) are all veterans of Slow Burn Theatre’s Avenue Q productions, and vocal standout Ryan also has a previous production of the show on her resume.
MNM’s commitment to live accompaniment continues with a bang-up six-member band led by the reliable Paul Reekie. The rented puppets are based on the original Broadway designs by Rick Lyon, but the attractive slums come from Daniel Porten and the mostly casual costumes from Leslye Menshouse. Be forewarned, however: The puppets appear occasionally full frontally naked.
AVENUE Q, MNM Theatre Co. at Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, June 10. $55. 561-832-7469, or visit www.kravis.org.