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Avenue Q 

PUPPET SEX, 20-SOMETHING ANGST AND THE LATE GARY COLEMAN ARE INTERTWINED IN AVENUE Q, ARRIVING THIS WEEK AT THE MAHALIA JACKSON THEATER

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Avenue Q

8 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., 7:30 p.m. Sun.

Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, 801 N. Rampart St.

Tickets: $25 and up
Visit www.mahaliajacksontheater.com or call (800) 745-3000.

In a musical featuring a song called "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and an act of fully nude onstage puppet sex, it seems Avenue Q's creators weren't worried about taking jokes too far. Although characters sing the praises of "Schadenfreude" in one scene, some real worry occurs when a main target of the show's ridicule dies in real life.

  "We have no idea (what's going to happen) yet!" touring cast member Brent Michael DiRoma said, laughing nervously, about 20 minutes after actor Gary Coleman was pronounced dead of a brain hemorrhage at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. "Anyone who is his family or people who are supporting him might not agree with this show. Either that, or the guy who plays our Gary Coleman is going to be really famous."

  There's a lot in Avenue Q that might not sit well with family or fans of the late Diff'rent Strokes star, who is one of the show's main characters. In the play, which stops in New Orleans June 8-13 on its Broadway Across America tour, Coleman — played by a woman in the original cast, but portrayed by Nigel Jamaal Clark on tour — is a building superintendent who sells his possessions on eBay and is introduced in a song called "It Sucks to Be Me." He makes the show's puppet and human characters, underemployed twenty- and thirtysomethings floundering in outer-outer-borough New York, seem successful in comparison. "I made a lot of money / That got stolen by my folks," he sings. "Now I'm broke and the butt of everyone's jokes."

  Jeff Whitty, the book writer for Avenue Q, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2004, kept the character in the show after a few edits in a May 29 production at New York's New World Stages, the home of its current off-Broadway run. Jacqueline Grabois, who plays Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut in the touring cast, thinks Coleman can tastefully maintain his residence on Avenue Q.

  "That's what theater's all about — it's imagination. Gary Coleman still exists now, but just in Avenue Q," she says. "I think it's kind of a cool thing that he gets to live on now through this Tony Award-winning show."

  Before Coleman's death, the cast was not unfamiliar with making audiences — especially those in more conservative locales — uncomfortable.

  "I mean, there are a few definite red states, that take (the show) a different way and take it to heart," says DiRoma, who plays the roles of puppets Princeton and Rod in the show. "I think ... a lot of people who live there have a very certain way, and it's just not for them. There's a lot of season ticket holders, you know, that might not look ahead and just go to see a show and they're kinda shocked to see naked puppets on stage doing it."

  The show, which promises "full puppet nudity" in its promotional materials, is like Sesame Street for adults (although DiRoma is quick to clarify that Avenue Q is not affiliated with the children's television show). But instead of teaching letters and numbers, the show's lessons include the joys of ethnic jokes, the benefits of the Internet (for porn) and some hard-won lessons about growing up.

  "Aside from its potty humor and vulgarity, it's got a big heart," DiRoma says. "The audience can really walk away ... feeling changed a little bit. They might have a different outlook on things in a positive way."

  But when it comes to New Orleans, the cast doesn't anticipate many audience walkouts.

  "Oh, my God, I'm so excited, you have no idea," Grabois says about performing in the city. "I'm really looking forward to it."

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