Avenue Q more sweet than shocking

Somehow I think Jim Henson would feel right at home on Avenue Q.

Sure, the musical, now playing at the Palace Theater, uses puppets spouting four-letter words and having sex to tell its story of young adults struggling in New York City.

Think Kermit and Miss Piggy in Rent.

But at its heart is a sweet story about friendship and following your dreams that would be at home in any Muppet movie.

Don’t be misled. The Tony Award winning show, with songs such as "It Sucks to Be Me" and "Internet is for Porn," is definitely for adults.

But once you get past the shock value of potty-mouthed puppets, it’s less subversive and cynical than an episode of The Simpsons, and not nearly as scathing as South Park.

It’s boy (recent college grad Princeton) meets monster (Kate) in a rundown neighborhood populated by such denizens as Trekkie Monster, whose odonistic preoccupations keep him in his apartment most of the time.

The building superintendent is Gary Coleman, who laments being a former child star (the joke gets old after a while). Christmas Eve is a Japanese social worker who doesn’t understand that her mangled English is keeping away clients.

Rod, a closeted homosexual Republican investment banker, and his straight roommate Nicky wrestle with the not-so-well-kept secret in "If You Were Gay."

Princeton and Kate have a tentative romance (punctuated by a wild romp) that is temporarily interrupted by his tryst with loose Lucy.

The funniest characters are the Bad Idea Bears, who look and talk like cute Care Bears but foist the worst advise on naive Princeton concerning getting drunk and other quick-fix solutions to life’s little problems.

I’ve always wondered about the source of those little voices that have gotten me in trouble over the years. Now I know.

Avenue Q has been described as "Sesame Street for adults." There are simplistic lessons a-plenty here for grown-ups.

"Everyone is a Little Bit Racist" cheerily suggests that, if we admitted our own prejudices, we’d get along better.

There’s some truth to that, but it also lets us off the hook for our bad attitudes. In the end, one longs for something with more bite.

In this age of 24-hour pornography in everything from computer spam to cable TV, it’s hard to gleefully cross the line of good taste.

It takes more than prurient puppets (done to more scatological effect in "Team America") to be really radical.

Unless you have been completely insulated from the dominant culture for the past 30 years, there is not much in Avenue Q that will offend.

Too bad.

Avenue Q debuted on Broadway in 2004 but seems to belong to an era of cockeyed optimists, or maybe the feel-good Disney extravaganzas that dominate the Great White Way these days.

Go to Avenue Q to be entertained and uplifted.

Leave it to Matt Stone or Matt Groening  to truly puncture our pretensions.

Avenue Q continues through April 13 at the Palace Theatre. Call 469-0939 for tickets.

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