A musical with puppets that labels itself “school edition.” Really? Really! Butler High School’s ambitious choice for a spring musical, “Avenue Q: School Edition,” delivered plenty of laughs, often based on (sometimes uncomfortable) truths.
The show begins with puppet Princeton (Davis Barnhardt) fresh out of college and wondering “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” On Avenue Q, he quickly learns life out of college is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Aspiring comedian Brian (Ben Thompson), social media addict Trekkie (Rickey-Levon Burch, Seth Spencer) and kindergarten teacher Kate (Ashton Kelly), among others, help Princeton adjust to his new life in harsh reality. With occasional input from the adorable Bad Idea Bears (Jillian Sykes and Andre Braza), Princeton gets off to a rocky start and questions his purpose in life.
The no-filter songs by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and warm and witty book by Jeff Whitty make “Avenue Q: School Edition” a perfect way to simultaneously laugh and wince about the future of the current generation.
I was quite impressed with Butler’s production. If every piece of choreography was not perfectly in sync, that was more than made up for by the charm of the characters and the fantastic set designed by the technical theater students. It included a full apartment building, a café, the interior of Princeton’s apartment, the interior of Kate’s apartment and the Empire State Building.
Occasional microphone difficulties caused some lost lines but did not take away from the message of the show. Barnhardt’s Princeton was endearing in his confusion about his role in the world, and Austin Mejia and Sohaib Ashfaq’s Nicky was spectacular with his bluntness – he has a song called “If You Were Gay” – and universally relatable roommate troubles.
While Butler’s rendition was reminiscent of the Broadway production, I can’t fault them: Why mess with something that’s already fantastic? With an expanded cast of twenty-seven, as opposed to nine in the Broadway cast, the added voices and ensemble characters contributed to the reality of the setting in New York City. Butler’s risk definitely paid off.