Wednesday, October 12, 2005

So tell me how to get, how to get to "Avenue Q"


music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
book by Jeff Whitty
directed by Jason Moore
at the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., New York
(also playing in Vegas, with a different cast)
Cast on Oct. 9: Barrett Foa (total hottie), Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Christian Anderson, Ann Harada, Jordan Gelber, Natalie Venetia Belcon, a few others

Sorry for the slack in blogging…I’ve been more or less on continuous vacation this past month, being literally between jobs. It’s very nice!

I’m currently kicking back my heels at my parents’ home in Virginia, having returned from a lovely, if severely weather-challenged, trip to New York. Among other things, I saw the musical “Avenue Q” on Broadway, and I’m writing this to tell you: if you’re reading this blog, you will *love* this show. Because you are its target audience.

In so stating, I’m assuming that you are probably under 40, have graduated from college, watched “Sesame Street” as a kid, and are still searching for your Purpose in Life. (One of the recurring songs and themes is aptly titled “Purpose.”) “Avenue Q” is basically “Sesame Street” for adults who belong to that demographic. And it rocks. But be warned: if you are offended by the concept of muppets who spout foul language, engage in loud and ecstatic sex, or confront latent homosexuality, then you may not enjoy the show as much as I did. (The stony-faced middle-aged couple sitting next to me evidently did not.)

Not that “Avenue Q” is intended solely as a parody of “Sesame Street.” If that were it, the joke would get pretty thin pretty fast. No, what we have here is a coming-of-age tale written principally for twenty and thirtysomethings---but really for anyone who still looks back with a little longing to an earlier time when it didn’t matter so much that you didn’t know what to do with your life. It just happens that the coming-of-age characters are mostly puppets. Unlike “Sesame Street,” the audience has full view of the actor behind each puppet---which doesn’t mar the effect so much as highlight the skills required to manipulate the damn thing while singing and jettéing about. The performances are all top-notch, and sustain the tone of the overall show.

The aforementioned puppets, and some real-live people, all live on the titular street, located in a fictional outer borough of New York. The fulcrum of the story is (puppet) Princeton, a fresh-faced college graduate who moves onto Avenue Q because it’s affordable. He soon gets acquainted with his neighbors, including a (puppet) love interest and elementary school teacher, Kate Monster; an uptight (puppet) preppie named Rod and his sloppier roommate Nicky (dead ringers for Bert & Ernie); a cranky (puppet) pervert named Trekkie Monster (a cross between Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch, as well as a dig at Internet geeks); an unemployed human named Brian and his unforgettable Japanese American wife, Christmas Eve; and the superintendent of their building, none other than Gary Coleman. Yes, *that* Gary Coleman, and no, he isn’t starring as himself. He’s played by a woman. In fact, I’d advise the real Gary Coleman never to see this show unless he has a sublimely forgiving sense of humor.

What’s the plot? The usual for any recent college grad without a particular mission in life: Find Thyself. What makes “Avenue Q” exceptional is how deftly it integrates that much-explored theme into the classic format of both “Sesame Street” and that peculiar beast, the Broadway musical. While the music isn’t especially memorable, except for its uncanny resemblance to those earnestly upbeat public-television jingles, the tart, decidedly R-rated lyrics more than make up for it. These deal with everything from racism to relationships to…Gary Coleman, and range from acidic (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “It Sucks to Be Me”) to risqué (“The Internet is for porn, / The Internet is for porn, / Grab your dick and double-click / For porn, porn, porn”) to wistful, even poignant (“I Wish I Could Go Back to College”). But they are never anything less than clever. The only song that didn’t have me either laughing or nodding in sympathy was “Schadenfreude,” a rhapsody on the idea that people derive pleasure from other people’s misfortunes. I give props to the writers for writing a song about schadenfreude in the first place, but this one seemed just a bit too mean-spirited, even for someone who cherishes no starry-eyed ideals about human nature.

Indeed, “Avenue Q”’s somewhat jaded take on life may be unappealing to older or more conservative viewers, who are likely to feel that it lacks a moral center. Perhaps it does. A more accurate assessment might be that the show depicts, with surprising freshness and lightness of touch, the predicament of a generation that neither follows nor has replaced the guiding forces that dictated their parents’ lives. For this very reason, “Avenue Q” is guaranteed to resonate with anyone struggling to find his or her Purpose. And I venture to guess that means you and me both.


Post a Comment

<< Home