August 26th, 2008

Fishy Circumstances

Avenue Q

I've been interested in seeing Avenue Q since pittenweem gushed about the songs and "There's Life Outside Your Apartment" showed up as the soundtrack to an anime music vid at Anime North. Finally, thanks to momentum from lazyknight and M., we went last week.

When summaries call it a "grown-up version of Sesame Street", they aren't kidding. It's not an analogy: the show is self-consciously show. There are interjected vignettes the introduce new words in entertaining ways. There are catchy tunes with dance numbers. There are characters which are - at least in aspects of their lives - directly derived from Sesame Street. There is a complete intermixing of humans with puppets.

The musical is about how university doesn't teach Life Lessons. Knowledge isn't wisdom or common sense, and success rarely falls, ripe, into one's hand. It's about a few weeks amoung 20-and-30-somethings on Avenue Q in NYC, a motley collection of people renting from a child movie star who had the worst possible thing happen to him: he grew up. One character wrestles with the aftermath of graduation; another pines for a date; a third works on coming to grips with being gay; a fourth is overeducated, underemployed, and heavily-accented. The last, Christmas Eve, was my favorite character in the musical; the dialogue plays with her densely Japanese-accented English.

The puppets are beautifully done. Their puppeteers walk around with them, their legs and nuances in things the puppets can't do, like wink. They are fully there, yet the human characters don't interact with them: that's what the puppet characters are for. Among the puppets are humans and monsters: monsters are furry; they're a whole different type of people than the humans are, with all the misunderstandings and stereotyping that brings.

For all the Life Lessons it's about, the musical isn't as heavy-handed as it sounds because it has such broad and deep humor to leaven it. It was a whole lot of fun, with memorable songs, zingy dialogue, bubbles, dreamscapes, and career advice.