The Puberty of Avenue Q: A Musical at 15
Fifteen years ago, when I stepped inside the John Golden Theatre to see Avenue Q, I had a very limited idea of what I was going to see. It was a musical with puppets and I couldn’t fathom how a show, that looked like Sesame Street meets Broadway, was going to entertain or move me. I had no idea that this delicious satire of children’s programming, told through the lens of adult problems, was going to work its way into my heart and remain ensconced there.
Nor was I ready for the irreverent comedy, infectious music, and the riotous sexual innuendo that awaited me. Sure, I had seen the posters advertising “Full Puppet Nudity” and was sure it would perhaps shock and entertain. But I had no idea how much heart and humor were packed into this “little show that could.” The lady sitting next to me was less prepared, practically falling out of her seat when the puppets started to fuck. Had she made the best choice bringing her eight-year-old son with her? I’m sure he grew up to be a devoted fan.
Avenue Q has turned 15 this year, entering its puberty, so to speak, and how delighted am I that this tonic for the world’s ills remains available and as relevant as it was in 2003. In fact, many could say that it is even more necessary considering the current state of our country. The musical had a healthy run on Broadway of 2,534 performances after winning (deservedly so) the Tony Award for Best Musical. It then closed briefly and transferred in 2009 to Off-Broadway’s New World Stages where it continues to run today, out-running its Broadway run.
That original production still stays with me. The heartfelt performance of Stephanie D’Abruzzo as Kate Monster juxtaposed against her libidinous turn as Lucy T. Slut. John Tartaglia, doing also dual duty as the earnest Princeton and the high-strung, closeted Rod. Rick Lyon breathing life into the warm and supportive Nicky. Natalie Venetia Belcon was a sassy, exasperated Gary Coleman who reveled in “Schadenfreude.” Jennifer Barnhart, a versatile puppeteer navigating Bad Idea Bears and Mrs. Thistletwat. Down on his luck, wannabe comedian Brian, played by Jordan Gelber, sang the merits of “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today.” Perhaps the show’s most memorable performances was Ann Harada as the frank and funny Christmas Eve.
Avenue Q isn’t all laughs and shock value. It is a musical brimming with heart and honesty. If ever there was a perfect song to capture the pain of a failed relationship, Robert Lopez’s and Jeff Marx’s “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” hits the mark with brutal poignancy. The characters warmly support and hold each other up through the bad times, making us feel like we can survive anything that life throws at us. After all, our problems are “Only for Now.”
Thank goodness, Avenue Q has been with us for far longer than that.