If Mr. Rogers had grown up on Avenue Q, there could still be beautiful days for a neighbor ... provided the neighbors were racist, homeless, gay, unemployed, abusive, penniless and addicted to porn.
Avenue Q can be thought of as an adult-sized Monsters, Inc., a puppet show for grown-ups (with puppet buggery!), two hours of sheer funny fodder for those with filthy mouths and filthier minds. A new University of Pittsburgh Stages production is exceedingly well-done, sharply directed and boasts a flawless cast. Within minutes the "people of fur" (as director Bria Walker dubs them in the program) become real. This is easy, even when confronted repeatedly by the cast who have arms shoved up the puppets' rears.
The musical opened on Broadway in 2003, and though TV and stage shows have crossed more boundaries, Avenue Q is still solid. Jeff Whitty's book won the Tony; its warped plot of coming-of-age is so well-written, as we all continue looking for purpose in life. After all, life isn't always easy, and probably always will be politically incorrect. Though funnier a decade ago, this theme is symbolized by child star Gary Coleman (played by Daria Sullivan), who had to sue his parents over his fortune.
Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx shared a Tony for the show's music and lyrics, work at which Lloyd Webber and Sondheim would cringe ... then wish they had thought of such genius.
Gianni Downs has done a superb job at using the small space for an incredibly functioning set. A handful of performers (and remember, these are Pitt students, some of them making their Stages debut) become their characters, and remind us that Broadway will embrace them one day. It's rude to name the Best of the Best, but if Mr. Rogers can have a favorite sweater, I can name a favorite actor. Tim Kaniecki is a senior chemistry and theater-arts double-major at Pitt, proof that he has chemistry as he brings his closeted character to life.