After a production in 2012, we wondered if Avenue Q, 2003's Tony-winning Sesame Street knockoff, risked becoming a period piece. At the end of the first Obama administration, our culture seemed to have made so much progress on the issues facing the human and puppet cast of twenty-somethings that the musical's continuing relevance was open to debate. But after the country's recent lurch to the right, that optimistic assessment seems silly. The song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" lands differently since we've learned that many people are still an awful lot more. Given recent attempts at rollbacks on marriage equality, Republican banker puppet Rod's closeted position in "If You Were Gay" is a lot more understandable.
At Raleigh Little Theatre, director Jesse Gephart completes the argument for Avenue Q's modern pertinence in a brisk, ruefully witty production. With imaginative set designers Duncan Jenner and Miyuki Su and puppet-maker Kevin Roberge, he literally opens up the titled avenue to give us glimpses of his characters' apartments and private lives and adds entertaining new characters. In the show's second week, individual performances remained a mixed bag. Aaron Boles convinced as central character Princeton and Brett Williams telegraphed Kate Monster's delight in "Mixtape." We didn't fully buy Bradley Waelbroeck's Rod, and Brandi Parker didn't sell what should have been a first-act rave-up. But the audience roared for Lydia D. Kinton's torch-song showstopper, "Special." Katherine Anderson's band was surefooted and animator Kat Randle's brief projected cartoons added fun to the mix. Overall, current times make us wonder exactly how many cultural woes are truly, in the last song's words, just "For Now."