Bawdy ‘Avenue Q’ a different kind of puppet show

Wayne Daigrepont, known in New Orleans theatrical circles as “Uncle” Wayne, is the consummate puppet master. As the founder of the Porta Puppet Players, he has done more than his share of festivals, fairs and birthday parties.

But he has a warning for parents thinking about bringing their little ones to his next production. Director of the Tony Award-winning “Avenue Q,” which opens Jan. 12 at the Jefferson Performing Arts Theater in Metairie and Jan. 25 at North Star Theatre in Mandeville, he can’t express loudly enough that this is not a show for kids.

To put it simply, it is rated R.

“We use every curse word under the sun,” he said. “We have a real sex scene. We don’t hold back one dime. It’s very out on the table and very real life.”

Such is the nature of one of the funniest, most provocative shows ever to hit the Broadway stage. Winner of the Tony for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, “Avenue Q” is indeed a puppet show but one with characters such as Lucy the slut and Trekkie the internet sexpert.

Written by Jeff Whitty, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, “Avenue Q” tells the story of Princeton, a recent college grad who moves into a shabby New York apartment way out on Avenue Q. There he meets Lucy, Trekkie and other colorful characters such as Rod the Republican, Gary Coleman, Christmas Eve and Bad Idea Bear who help Princeton finally discover his purpose in life.

Songs include “It Sucks to Be Me,” “The Internet is For Porn,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “If You Were Gay.”

“We’re doing the entire show, with no cuts,” said Daigrepont. “It’s going to be fun. But it’s a giant undertaking. Just the puppet-rental alone was a big to-do. It takes many, many thousands of dollars to do it.”

Princeton, the college graduate, will be played by Scott Sauber, who has worked with Daigrepont for 27 years and has dozens of shows – both the puppet and non-puppet variety – to his credit. Katie Coplen Bourg, who worked with Daigrepont on the “Nunsense” shows, is Kate Monster, the girl next door.

The cast also includes Robert Facio, Dwayne Sepchich Jr., Bryce Huey Turgeon, Anna Toujas, Whitney Nicole Mixon and Allee Peck.

“The people who are doing it have been dying to do it,” Daigrepont said. “But you can’t just go, ‘Here’s a puppet. Do it.’ You have to have a sense a humor and comic timing.”

Dennis Assaf, executive and artistic director of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society, said the challenges of staging “Avenue Q” make for an amazing production. For instance, he said, the actors are visible to the audience, and as such, must be aware of their own actions while also manipulating their puppets.

“Sometimes, two humans are manipulating the same puppet,” he said. “There are, of course, humans who are not playing puppets so this adds another comic level.”

Assaf described the musical numbers as “howl-out loud funny,” but like Daigrepont, cautioned parents against bringing children.

“It’s bawdy, sometimes raunchy and not for the prudish,” he said. “It makes one social commentary after the other and is an equal opportunity basher of the human condition.”

The production staff includes musical director Alan Payne and choreographer Lindsey Romig, who Daigrepont said is the “true backbone” of the show.

“She is the true core in the apple, the true backbone, even more than I am,” he said.

Performances are Jan. 12 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 13 and 20 at 3 p.m. at Jefferson Performing Arts Center, 400 Phlox St., Metairie, and Jan. 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 27 at 3 p.m. at North Star Theatre, 347 Girod St., Mandeville. Tickets are $20-$30 and can be purchased by calling 504.885.2000.

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