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Foul-mouthed furries furnish filth-laden fun

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Avenue Q is that rare stage musical that attracts to the theatre an audience in which millennials outnumber their parents and grandparents.

Although the surprise 2004 Tony Award winner (over prohibitive favourite Wicked) is a decade old, it remains an anthem of its generation for the way it hilariously chronicles the harsh realities of entering adulthood. A short four-day run here by a young collective of recent university graduates sold out before it opened two years ago, so Winnipeg Studio Theatre quickly brought back Avenue Q for its first professional run at the RMTC Warehouse.

It was LOL funny for the youthful opening-night crowd Thursday. It's hard to remember a more boisterous night of theatre since, well, the last time Winnipeggers took a stroll down Avenue Q. It's the laughter of recognition and identification, even if the lives of young adults are being represented by colourful, bug-eyed puppets. It's those felt and furry folk who provide inoffensive cover so the American songwriting team of Robert Lopez/Jeff Marx (Jeff Whitty wrote the book) can dispense crude adult lessons about purpose in life, sexuality and racism.

It parodies Sesame Street in the way it teaches vocabulary and math on a video screen located over designer Alison Nutt's sketchy street set, complete with wooden crates and metal trash cans that might house Oscar the Grouch. In tone, language and sexual innuendo, it's way more South Park, so check your political correctness at the door.

The poster boy for arrested development is Princeton, whom we first see wearing a graduation cap and gown and asking in song, What Do You Do with a B.A. in English? He started looking for an apartment on Avenue A and could only find a place on rundown Avenue Q, where apparently millennial dreams go to die.

When he gets downsized even before he starts his menial office job, he breaks into It Sucks to Be Me. He is immediately joined in his musical lament by his neighbours: Brian, a failed comic; his unsuccessful therapist girlfriend Christmas Eve; Kate Monster, the good girl with big dreams but no money; and self-acknowledged has-been Gary Coleman, former chiild star of TV's Diff'rent Strokes. Also in his apartment are Republican investment banker Rod, struggling with his undeclared homosexuality, and his roommate/freeloader Nicky, as well as creepy, horned Trekkie Monster.

The kick of the show is the shock of watching puppets singing obscenities and behaving badly. The catchy songs -- including Everyone's a Little Bit Racist, I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today and The Internet is for Porn -- remain fresh and infectious. An unseen five-piece band led by conductor Paul DeGurse offered fine accompaniment.

Director Kayla Gordon has assembled an all-Winnipeg cast without a weak link. The rapport between flesh and felt is fascinating to watch, especially between leads Aaron Hutton as preppy Princeton and the sweet-voiced Paula Potosky as wholesome Kate Monster. Their Long Island Tea party-turned-amorous frenzy brought down the house. Dorothy Carroll is sensational as the vampish Lucy the Slut, who comes -- no, sashays -- between the lovers. Darren Martens is a hoot when his gruff-voiced Trekkie Monster hijacks The Internet is for Porn number from Kate. Carroll and Martens also team up as the outrageous Bad Idea Bears, evil but innocent-looking teddy bears who take advantage of emotionally compromised characters by cheerfully suggesting excessive drinking, promiscuity and suicide.

Some of the puppets are animated by one actor, while some take a second's helping hand. A scene with a chorus of talking brown boxes boasted choreography by Brenda Gorlick worthy of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Three of the characters -- Brian (Jeremy Koz), Christmas Eve (Andrea Macasaet) and Gary Coleman (Lisa Bell) -- are portrayed without puppets. Macasaet excelled as the bossy Christmas Eve, and killed with her rendition of The More You Ruv Someone. Aaron Pridham, the only holdover from the previous Avenue Q, offered a poignant portrayal of Rod, a man fighting to find the key that will let himself out of the closet.

The only false note of the two-hour show comes late, when the creators attempt an uplifting ending, declaring that the problems and dissatisfactions of the young people are only For Now. That might be accepted by viewers of Sesame Street but is is hard to swallow by those in the audience of Avenue Q -- deeply indebted, over-educated and under-employed.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 G9

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