Review – Avenue Q
Is it geeky to review a musical?
Well we’ve established a few things about being a geek over the last few years, come to a few conclusions, and had plenty of arguments over the subject, but when we put this concept to the test we made some interesting observations. I’ll come back to that in a short while…
Controversial Subject Warning
Because this is not a family friendly musical to talk about. Click links to songs if you enjoy being offended.
Avenue Q is a musical starring some Sesame Street styled characters living some far more normal lives. Rather than Elmo, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch chatting and singing about numbers, letters and pointing out how some things are different, instead we have a struggling post-graduate, a pair of mismatched room-mates and a washed up child-actor chatting and singing about how lousy life is, how great it is when other people’s lives are worse, and the important parts of the internet. I suppose there is a song about how some things are different.
This week in Shrewsbury was the second time I’ve seen Avenue Q. The stage show has been running since 2003, and has gone hugely international, received acclaim from all sides and has been performed by a multitude of casts. Now bringing this kind of show to stage requires puppets and puppeteers to share the boards, and requires the willing – at times concious – suspension of disbelief, especially when the same actor is portraying the voices of two puppets at opposite ends of the stage. Weirdly, once you get through the first number it becomes incredibly easy, because by then you already have come to like the characters and want to believe that they’re real, and as their dramas unfold you start to almost hope for some big pathetic happy ending, and I never hope for a happy ending.
This is also due in part to the production of the piece. The set is incredibly dynamic, starting with a single set-piece, the front of the houses in the avenue, but parts open and reveal an almost living world, a single two-foot hatch and cunning lighting taking you from a dustbin-riddled street to the inside of the flat, and life of the tenants, and as the show presses on, it becomes a natural thing. The show is ingeniously choreographed to make the audience fully buy into this world, like we’re children again talking to Kermit and forgetting that it’s a guy’s hand in a cunning disguise.
A few other features really help set this show apart. Short animations, the lunatic bad-idea bears, the rampant Muppet on Muppet sex scenes (legally distinct from the real Muppets of course) and shameless offensiveness that Matt Stone and Trey Parker would be proud of. In fact the creator of Avenue Q worked with the South Park creators on their musical, The Book of Mormon.
So why is Avenue Q geeky?
Well there’s a song about the internet, I think it’s safe to say that that’s a positive start, but there’s more to it than that. This is something childish made for grown-ups, and tell me that’s not nerdy right there. We’ve spent the creative force of our generation taking the cartoons, comics, toys and pop-culture of our generation and remade them to match our new sensibilities, the ones that have been exposed to the harsh blowtorch of reality.
And that’s what Avenue Q is about. As Sesame Street teaches us the basics of life and some moral lessons to help us scrape through it, watching Avenue Q teaches us about bad decisions, accepting what terrible people we are, and how the only way to get by is by learning from the colossal mistakes we make in life.