It's not every day that I get to share a Broadway matinee with my mom that includes a bunch of Muppet stand-ins singing songs with lyrics and visuals about jerking off to porno, fisting and pussy-eating, and having her laugh her ass off throughout, so I offer a deeply-felt thank you to the maniacs responsible for AVENUE Q, 2004's Tony winner for best musical.
The premise is simplicity itself: take a group of characters and a format obviously inspired by SESAME STREET, shift the target audience from wee ones to adults and deal with issues common to the grownup experience, fuel it with loads of risque — and tasteless — humor and songs that subvert the usual Broadway treacle, and you have a side-splitting show that is definitely not for the kiddies.
The cast includes various analogs to some of the Sesame Street-residents that we know and love (the Bert stand-in is a closeted homosexual with a crush on his straight roomie, and Lucy the slut, described by the creators as "What if Prairie Dawn grew up and went bad"), a non-puppet couple (one of whom is a Japanese woman who is so hilariously un-PC that they never would have gotten away with her if played by a non-Asian actress), a pair of young twenty-somethings whose romance is a lot more realistic than anything I've ever seen on the stage (including the infamous and graphic Long Island ice tea-inspired puppet sex scene), two cute little bears who resemble Snuggle and convince people to act on their worst urges (financial frivolity, drunkenness and possible suicide), a superintendent who happens to be Gary Coleman of DIFF'RENT STROKES has-been fame (not the real Coleman, but a woman playing him with borderline-vicious irreverence), and my favorite of the lot, Trekkie Monster,
a ribald "descendant" of Cookie Monster who lives for Internet pornography — he has a number devoted to that called "The Internet is For Porn" — and tunefully urges the audience to "grab your dick and double-click." And, no, he has nothing whatsoever to do with STAR TREK despite his name.
The set looks like a much seedier (read "realistic") version of the SESAME STREET neighborhood, and the stage is flanked with two large plasma screen TV's which broadcast animated segments that punctuate the piece and bolster the whole homage/parody effect, and unlike MEET THE FEEBLES, Peter (the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) Jackson's foray into Muppet-based offensiveness (which I love, but don't recommend to the squeamish), there's a real sense of loony fun to the proceedings. But keep in mind that the show's frank and tasteless content is not for all tastes and ages and may offend the blue-haired set, while simultaneously opening up doors of perception that those under fifteen or so may have some serious questions about. Knowing this, the official site lists the following among its FAQ section:
Is Avenue Q appropriate for children?
Adults love AVENUE Q, but they seem a little, er, fuzzy on whether it's appropriate for kids. We'll try to clear that up. AVENUE Q is great for teenagers because it's about real life. It may not be appropriate for young children because AVENUE Q addresses issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn. It's hard to say what exact age is right to see AVENUE Q - parents should use their discretion based on the maturity level of their children. But we promise you this - if you DO bring your teenagers to AVENUE Q, they'll think you're really cool.
That's definitely a fair assessment, so it's up to you to take it from there. My seventy-four year old mom absolutely loved it — but then again she raised my questionable ass, so she's been broke in, and was even persuaded to sit through %98 of PINK FLAMINGOS before she bailed — and I almost snarfed water through my nose when she exclaimed aloud, "Did that monster just say 'Grab your dick and double-click?'" after which she howled like a harbor seal. And it was also fun to behold a set of parents, seated directly in front of me, cringing during most of the running time while their eleven-year-old son absorbed cheerfully-conveyed foul language and two nude puppets sixty-nining.
Now I am by no means a fan of the tourist trap bullshit that passes for Broadway fare these days — tarted-up adaptations of movies and Disney cartoons, jukebox musicals where you'd do better to just shell out the cash for the "greatest hits" albums by the groups being covered for one tenth of the ticket price, overblown and soulless spectacles, turgid revivals of shows that were dated forty or more years ago — so AVENUE Q's originality, in execution if not concept, and confrontational nature are a breath of fresh air in a theatrical dumping ground for disposable multi-gazillion dollar performance junk food. I have not enjoyed a Broadway show since the incredible SWEENEY TODD back in 1982 — although I've got to give it up to THE LION KING for its truly amazing visuals — and the mere existence of a show like AVENUE Q gives me a glimmer of hope for the survival of true creativity on the Great White Way.
But the one downside to all of this was when the show ended and the cast did their curtain calls, and the actors appealed to the audience for money; I'm all for cancer-treatment charities and Actor's Equity, but I was amazed that they had the balls to beg for money from tourists and locals who shelled out, in some cases, over a hundred bucks per ticket. And that was after a number during the show proper where the cast leaps off the stage and canvases the audience for donations, and when they didn't get much cash from the theatergoers, they complained about it during the post-show begging. And then they compounded that by auctioning off a backstage tour and photo op with the puppets for whoever forked over the most cash, bidding starting at $150. All of this created a truly uncomfortable atmosphere, and the bidding petered out at $200, just after one of the bear puppets agreed to show off her boobs to the winner. Come back, funding for the arts!!!
But don't let that deter you. AVENUE Q is a pisser, even if you hate musicals.