Avenue Q: Reinventing the Puppet

17 03 2010

I had the chance to see the Tony award winning musical Avenue Q this weekend at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium. Winning several Tony’s, including Best Musical, in 2003, Avenue Q has been a popular show both on and off Broadway. Known for its risque content (often bordering on raunchy), the show gets even more controversial by including several main characters as puppets, similar to kids’ shows like The Muppets and Sesame Street. But this is no kids’ show! Here’s the breakdown:

Princeton, a recent college graduate, moves to Avenue Q, excited to start the next chapter in his budding adult life. There he meets several friends, including porn addict Trekkie Monster, friendly love interest Kate Monster, lazy Brian and his Japanese fiancee Christmas Eve, roommates Rod and Nicky, Lucy the Slut and super-intendant Gary Coleman. Experiencing ups and downs, the characters living on Avenue Q must come to grips with life’s many challenges, challenges that present themselves during the awkward stage after youth is gone and the real world lies in wait.

The Monkey: The musical numbers are hysterical and the dialogue is surprisingly intelligent and witty, not relying solely on raunch or vulgarity. With song titles like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “If You Were Gay,” and “The Internet is For Porn,” not only does the show touch on relevant and often controversial issues, but it does it in a way that is funny and light-hearted, taking the sting out of hot-button issues and helping viewers put things into perspective.

Aside from the content itself, the execution of the show was brilliant. The only “human” characters are Brian, Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman. All other characters are puppets, handled on-stage by cast members who sing and provide the voices. The amazing thing about this: sometimes different actors handle different puppets at different times, even voicing and singing for puppets that they themselves aren’t handling at the moment, from across stage! This works, because, despite the seemingly distracting presence of the actors, the puppets really do steal the show. The audience almost forgets the actors are even there!

The Weasel: Overall, the singing was pretty weak when compared to some of the other Broadway shows I’ve seen. The “puppet-actors” were all strong, especially considering they also sang with distinct (and sometimes recognizatable) character-voices, but it was the “human” characters who failed to impress. Which was too bad; Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman have some of the funniest songs and moments, but the scenes often suffered from odd phrasing or poor voice control, taking away from the laughs.

Avenue Q delivers the laughs and succeeds in pointing out the ridiculousness of some of today’s most controversial topics. A brilliant and creative stage production, Avenue Q is a definite must-see for anyone looking for intelligent humor that isn’t afraid to play with the profane.

Unfortunately, Avenue Q is no longer showing at Gammage; however, check out the tour website to see when Avenue Q is coming to your town! Be forewarned: this show is NOT for children or those easily offended by sex and profanity.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Does Avenue Q have a good message couched in comedy, or is it just jokes for the sake of jokes? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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2 responses

2 06 2010
Cal

I was very disappointed that there was nothing more to this show other than the music. The whole show relied solely on the comedy from the music numbers, so if you have the cast album, you don’t have to see the show! I also agree that the execution of the puppets was fantastic but the human characters brought absolutely nothing to the show.
I don’t understand WHY this show won best musical at the Tony Awards over Wicked! Now I’m even more upset by this!

2 06 2010
Dustin

Yeah, while inventive, Wicked was WAY more deserving!

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