Playful and poignant: ‘Avenue Q’ packs powerful message

Playful and poignant: Avenue Q packs powerful message

Abby Kempf

Columbia Entertainment Company brought the dry wit of the Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q to mid Missouri for the past three weekends, closing Sept. 28.
Before I delve into my review of the actual performance, I would like to first say Avenue Q is one of my favorite musicals. That is really saying something, as I am a bit of Broadway junkie. The show is a play on the beloved children’s cartoon Sesame Street, but this time it teaches lessons for 20-somethings instead of tots.

Avenue Q poster bearing the traditional Avenue Q emblem.
The cast consists of three humans and nine puppets, and their puppeteers. The story follows Princeton, a recent college graduate, as he takes on New York City with a BA in English as his only form of training to deal with the uncertainties and conundrums of life.
Along the way Princeton meets a girl, fellow puppet Kate Monster, when he moves into his new apartment on Avenue Q, which is owned by the notorious Gary Coleman. Princeton learns about commitment, racism, job markets, homosexuality, budgeting and love throughout the course of the show, while constantly searching for his purpose.
Princeton learns these lessons through musical numbers such as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “What Do You Do With a BA in English,” “I Wish I Could Go Back to College,” and “If You Were Gay.”
The show is absolutely hilarious, if performed correctly. Under the direction of Kate Musgroves, CEC’s production did the romp justice, if lacking in a few areas.
Michele Curry, a seasoned veteran of Columbia theater, owned the part of Kate Monster, as expected. Her counterpart, Derek Shoults, acted the naive and aloof Princeton to a tee, largely making up for his subpar singing abilities. Other notable performers include Taylor Yazel, Nicky, and Kyle Kuypers, Rod, who had terrific chemistry and Rachel Davis, Gary Coleman, with strong vocals and enthralling stage presence.
The humor translated well from the CEC stage, donning a truly excellent scenic design. Lighting also went smoothly, while the sound had a few glitches – we heard an upset performer exclaim backstage that she had “run into the fence.”
But that’s part of the beauty of live theater, folks.
After two years of listening only to the Original Broadway Recording of the show, I discovered it was hard not to compare the vocals of the production to that of the recording. But while a few harmonies went sour, actually seeing the show brought the comedy, and heartfelt message of loving life despite its flaws, to life.
Overall it was refreshing to see central Missouri put on such an edgey and insightful show. The last time I’ve seen a show of the kind was last fall at Mizzou’s production of Spring Awakening. In fact the show was a little too suggestive for older audiences. The couple in their 60s or 70s sitting next to me cringed through songs such as “The Internet is for Porn” and “You Can Be Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love).” They did not return after intermission.
Another thing I noticed is CEC shows have been making a comeback from slightly disappointing performances in past years. The small community theater is on a roll with solid performances such as 9-5, the Musical, Young Frankenstein, and Monty Python’s SPAMalot.
Avenue Q established CEC is ready to juggle raunchy, funny, and insightful, all in one performance.