Credits: Music & Lyrics by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx. Book by Jeff Whitty.
Summary: What if the puppets from Sesame Street had to grow up and deal with adult life? That’s the premise behind Avenue Q, a musical focused on a group of 20-something puppets, all searching for purpose, while struggling to make a go of it in an “outer-outer” borough of New York City.
Broadway: Opened on Broadway in July 2003 and ran for six years, then re-opened Off-Broadway at the New World Stages theater complex in 2009, where it is still running.
Tours: Avenue Q also had a limited run in Las Vegas and the West End in London, as well as numerous tours in the U.S. and abroad.
Awards: Nominated for six Tony Awards. Won 3, including Best Book and Best Musical (beating out Wicked, which was favored to win).
Rating: R (for language, puppet nudity & puppet sex)
Why This Musical: When Avenue Q opened, it was praised for its fresh, satirical content and its ground-breaking format. Conceived as a parody of children’s TV shows like Sesame Street, the musical not only presented a dead-on spoof of genre, but also gave the audience a story with a lot of heart. The plot centers on a naïve college grad who moves to a low-rent apartment on Avenue Q and struggles to find his purpose. Along the way, he meets a diverse cast of characters; together they tackle issues like pornography, homelessness, racism, and homosexuality through witty musical numbers. As with Sesame Street, the cast is made up of puppets, but the puppeteers remain on stage throughout the show, clearly visible to the audience. Not only does Avenue Q parody Sesame Street, but four of the puppeteers from the original cast worked on the TV show. Characters such as roommates Rod and Nicky (Bert and Ernie) and Trekkie Monster (who favors online porn, rather than cookies) are clearly modeled on the Sesame Street muppets. The show was so well-received that it made numerous “Best Of” lists for 2003 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
My Connection: I discovered the Cast Recording for Avenue Q about five years ago and loved it. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to see a local production in Milwaukee, performed by the marvelous Skylight Music Theatre. At first, I was afraid I might be distracted by the presence of the human puppeteers, but about fifteen minutes in, I stopped noticing them. The cast did an amazing job, and the funky, colorful set was fantastic.
Where to See It: At the moment, Avenue Q is still playing Off-Broadway, and tickets are often discounted through TKTS. It has also performed by professional theater groups, and there’s even a PG-13 version that has been licensed for high school productions.
“It Sucks To Be Me”
“There’s a Fine, Fine Line”
Final Thoughts: If you’re not offended by the subject matter or the language, then this is a very enjoyable musical, with a lot of heart and humor. The original Cast Recording is available on iTunes.