Avenue Q has just found a new home Off-Broadway at New World Stages in New York, but I was lucky enough to see the show at the Palace Theater, in Waterbury, CT. Although it won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2004, this uncomfortably funny, irreverent and sometimes downright raunchy show is not a musical that I could count among my favorites.
With music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and a book by Jeff Whitty, Avenue Q is a skewed, adult version of a Sesame Street-type world inhabited by people and puppets. Like Sesame Street, everyone sings and there are short animated “teaching” videos shown throughout the performance. The difference is that the inhabitants of Avenue Q are all 20-somethings dealing with the issues, problems and temptations that come with that age, instead of young children.
This run-down neighborhood houses a recent college graduate, Princeton, who is seeking his purpose in life and falls for a cute monster teacher named Kate. There is also an investment banker named Rod who is uptight and afraid to admit that he’s gay; Rod’s unemployed slob of a roommate named Nicky; Trekkie Monster, a pervert who lives in an upstairs apartment and loves porn; and an aspiring stand-up comic named Brian and his Japanese wife, Christmas Eve. A buxom chanteuse named Lucy the Slut, and the Bad Idea Bears (a takeoff on the Care Bears) who convince people to do what they want without thinking of the consequences, round out the puppet cast. Adding to the mix is Gary Coleman (played by Nigel Jamaal Clark), the actor from Different Strokes, who is now a super, living down his childhood career.
So what’s not to love? My problem with the play is simply that all of the characters seemed trapped on the edge of adulthood but with an adolescent mindset. They inhabit a world where 30 is old, and they have all of the freedom that comes with adulthood but none of the maturity to deal with the responsibilities. So for me, the humor of the play seemed old – I had that “been there, done that, survived and moved on” feeling. I thought the jokes were silly and sophomoric, and that the only thing these characters needed was to grow up.