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'Come and play' at Oregon Cabaret Theatre

While there’s a temptation to hum the theme from “Sesame Street,” “Avenue Q” is not the educational children’s television show.

Billed as an uproarious puppet musical, “Avenue Q” juxtaposes the nostalgia of make-believe children’s television shows with the complexities of adulthood, says Galloway Stevens, the show’s director and choreographer.

“ ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and ‘Sesame Street’ taught us as children how to handle ourselves in the world,” Stevens says. “We were entertained as we were educated.”

The lesson was tied up in a big, bright bow and delivered by colorful, bright puppets, he adds.

The Muppet-like characters that inhabit “Avenue Q” are more “South Park” than “Sesame Street.” Composers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx along with Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book, use satire and dark humor.

“It’s to teach us adults how to handle ourselves better in situations that we have not always previously handled appropriately,” Stevens says.

“The witty, comedic style of the authors is a hilarious commentary on the issues surrounding us as people and as a society.”

“Avenue Q” previews Thursday, July 12, opens Friday, July 13, and runs through Sept. 9 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, corner of First and Hargadine streets, Ashland. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Preview tickets are $25. Tickets for all other performances are $25 or $39 and can be purchased at oregoncabaret.com, by calling 541-488-2902, or at the box office.

Definitely not a child’s play, “Avenue Q” tackles sex, drinking, internet pornography, racism and homophobia.

This musical pushes boundaries in the style of “Saturday Night Live,” “South Park” and “In Living Color” as it pokes fun at surface stereotypes and the over-sensitized world we are currently living in, Stevens says,

The show is for mature audiences only.

“Avenue Q” revolves around Princeton, a recent college grad, looking for his purpose in life, wanting to make it in the world — and make a difference, Stevens says.

With a bachelor’s in English, Princeton gets schooled in the “real world” after he moves into a dilapidated New York City apartment in a dilapidated neighborhood surrounded by dilapidated people — all trying to find their purpose.

“Avenue Q is a very rough street in the last borough on the last subway stop,” Stevens says.

Princeton soon discovers that it’s not any ordinary neighborhood. The tenants include two monsters — Kate Monster and Trekkie Monster; a Japanese immigrant named Christmas Eve and her browbeaten fiancé Brian; Rod, a closet gay Republican; the Bad Idea Bears; and former television star Gary Coleman, who serves as the building superintendent. Together, Princeton and his neighbors struggle to find their ever-elusive purpose in life.

“New York is a place where dreams live or die, especially if you are living in a world of self issues,” Stevens says. “Those issues can blind us.”

“Avenue Q” took Broadway by storm when it opened in July 2003 and won three Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book for a Musical.

Stevens, a native of North Carolina living and working in New York City at that time, remembers being struck by lightning when he first saw the show.

“It’s such a fun piece,” he says. “We are taught to celebrate our differences, even when those differences prove challenging. It allows us to laugh with each other and at each other.

“That the self-portrait is painted by bawdy, zany puppets is not only hilarious but a clever way to entertain and educate us, just as if we were children, without preaching to us,” he adds. “The witty, comedic style of the authors washes over you. You think ‘Oh my goodness. They just did that. They just said that.’ ”

“Avenue Q” touts a catchy and electric score, along with fun and active choreography.

“It’s not ‘Chorus Line’ or ‘West Side Story,’ but audiences will have a good time,” Stevens promises.

Look for songs “What to Do With a B.A. in English?,” “It Sucks to Be Me,” “If You Were Gay,” “The Internet is for Porn” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”

Jack O’Brien plays Princeton. The rest of the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy characters are played by Alex Boyles, Sierra Wells, Maggie Randolph, Asha Brownie-Gordon, Catherine Landeta and Eric Solis.

Mary Hildebrand Nagler crafted the puppets for the production. Set design is by Jason Bolen, lighting by Michael Stanfill, sound by Elizabeth Weidner, and costumes by Lauren Blair.

Chef Chris McSevney will prepare New York-style fare for dinner patrons. Reservations are required for pre-show dinners or brunch. Appetizers, beverages, and desserts are available without reservations.

Sierra Wells, left, and Eric Solis, operate Trekkie Monster in Oregon Cabaret's production of "Avenue Q." Photo by Christopher Briscoe.