What: Avenue Q – The Musical
When: 4th August, 2016
Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
If you were in the dark about Avenue Q coming to Melbourne, then you’re clearly not alone. Somewhere between the highly-successful run of the 2016 Australian production premiere of Singin’ in the Rain, and the to-be-as-equally as epic production of Kinky Boots (coming this October); this light-hearted musical is here for a strictly limited season at Her Majesty’s Theatre. I went along to the Opening Night last night – here’s what I thought.
Heading into the Theatre, I can honestly say that I had no idea what to expect. With no idea of the concept of the show, the songs or what it was even about (I knew that there would be puppets – of course – and I’d heard a whisper or two about their being some puppet nudity), I knew basically nothing.
I’ve never been a fan of shows with puppets. I remember back in primary school, we were taken to a performance of The Hobbit on stage. I remember nothing about the show except that I found the puppeteers (wearing black clothing with their faces covered) highly distracting! (I found this to be a distraction too when I saw King Kong a couple of years ago.) So I knew that this would be a challenge – but I hoped I would be able to focus on the puppets, and not the actors themselves. Sadly, this didn’t happen, and I spent more time watching the actors but, you know what? I loved it!
Avenue Q spoke to me on so many levels. Essentially, the musical is about Princeton, a recent college graduate with a BA in English who doesn’t know where he’s going in life. I think anyone with a degree in English or the Arts can relate. As the lyrics of the song, What do You Do with a B.A. in English, reads:
What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.
Most of all, the musical is about life – its ups and downs, love and hate, and all the twists, turns and life lessons we learn along the way. It’s also about finding that purpose in life, your reason to be – whether it be a career, a family or something more. It also topical deals as community, doing right by others, meaning of live, sex, race, addiction and sexuality. Just as Jerry Seinfeld suggested we “look to the cookie” for racial harmony; perhaps we should all just admit Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist:
If we all could just admit
That we are racist a little bit,
Even though we all know
That it’s wrong,
Maybe it would help us
I related most of all with Brian – a 32-year old broke, unemployed man with a dream of being a comedian. I think we all struggle with doing what we like for the joy of it, or doing what we need to do to live. I also could relate to Princeton and his quest to find his purpose; and Kate too, and her search for love. There is a fine line between love and a waste of time. Saying this, and watching the show, it made me feel like a complete loser and made me really question where I’m going in life. But at least it made me laugh, so I could laugh about how pathetic my life is! Talk about having the feels.
I loved Zuleika Kahn’s performance of Gary Coleman the best. What an absolute superstar! I wasn’t alive to experience Diff’rent Strokes in all its television glory, but she got the mannerisms down pat. But, I can’t fault any of the cast performances, talented musicians or creative direction at all. I did find it a little distracting when performers were voicing two puppets at the same time, or when two performers were “performing” as one puppet – but those are little details. It would have been nice to have another two or three performers so this wouldn’t happen – but it didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the show. It just would have been better. But with the way the actors were able to switch between the voices, you wouldn’t notice unless you weren’t looking at the puppets. Again. My overall problem.
During the performance, I couldn’t help but wonder if the musical would be as successful if it was done without the puppets. Could it work with humans playing humans? Or even, with humans in full costumes? This could be up for debate, but I think it could – and I probably would have enjoyed it more – but that goes back to not being able to fully emerge myself in the puppet world.
I understand that part of the musical is to shock people. It was created as a Sesame Street for adults. Even Trekkie’s addition to porn is a play off Cookie Monster’s obsession for cookies. But where Sesame Street is all about believing in yourself and being a good human being, Avenue Q displays the harsh realities of life as an adult and all the shit that comes along with it.
If Sesame Street were to do an adult episode, you could just imagine Oscar as the homeless crack addict; Bert and Ernie struggling with their sexuality; Cookie Monster just wanting his next fix etc. There are many parallels; Nicky ends up on the street; Rod struggles with his sexuality (If You Were Gay) and his feelings towards his best friend and room mate, Nicky (Fantasies Come True); and The Internet is For Porn comically expresses Trekkie’s addiction.
(Can I just point out for a second the use of tissues, lube, Vaseline and a sock. Which do you prefer? I don’t want to know! “Yes, Kate, I masturbate.” Also, a nod to the audience during that number and The Money Song. Hilarious!)
Avenue Q achieves what it sets out to do. If you’re one for big sets and costumes, then this production isn’t for you; but I didn’t find I missed any of the glitz at all. It isn’t necessary. Also, the clever use of an electronic screen added some additional humour, and was used in such a creative way. I’m not going to go too much into spoilers, because I feel like I’ve said enough already – but I found Avenue Q to be hilarious, naughty, offensive and simply brilliant. It’s quirky, cheeky and absolutely, worth a look!
Must close August 14th. Be quick!