With song titles such as ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ and ‘The Internet is for Porn’, there is no shirking of uncomfortable realities. However, the Tony Award-winning show is not mired in negativity. It is a musical about growing up, dreaming big, being let down, sometimes hitting rock-bottom, but ultimately finding purpose in life.
Produced by UK touring company, Sell a Door Theatre Company, the show is inspired by the children’s programme, Sesame Street — but it’s for audiences aged 14 and over. A parable, it pokes fun at the issues that pre-occupy young people as they navigate their way into the adult world.
The main character is Princeton, a recent graduate, who moves to New York, full of hopes and dreams about his future. However, he can only afford to live in a less than salubrious neighbourhood called Avenue Q. He moves in with quirky characters including Brian, an out-of-work comedian and his therapist fiancée, Christmas Eve. There’s an internet ‘sexpert’ called Trekkie Monster; a good-hearted slacker, Nicky; and his closet gay Republican roommate, Rod. Kate Monster, a kindergarten teacher, becomes Princeton’s love interest.
Director Cressida Carre says the show requires suspension of disbelief as it uses puppets operated by unconcealed puppeteers alongside 11 human actors. “Even though you can see the puppeteers, you very quickly adjust to just concentrating on the puppets. There are over 20 of them, made with a lot of attention to detail.”
For Carre, Avenue Q is one of the most challenging shows he’s ever directed. “It’s a great show, very clever, funny and also poignant. It made me cry It deals with learning lessons in life such as who your friends are and how to treat people. There are many messages in the show but it’s not preachy. A lot of it is laugh-out-loud.”
The show doesn’t beat around the bush.
“There’s a note of truth in songs such as ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’.” The unpalatable fact is acknowledged rather than being swept under the carpet. “That’s the whole point of the show.”
Princeton’s song is ‘What do you do with a BA in English?’ “His journey is difficult. It’s full of soul destroying jobs and relationships falling apart. He makes many mistakes but he learns from them.”
The show features an unusual plot device with a real-life celebrity written into it as a fictional character. The late Gary Coleman, the young actor who starred in the 1980s America sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes and sued his parents and advisors over misappropriation of his assets, is portrayed as an adult, played by a woman, who is forced to work as a building supervisor in shabby Avenue Q.
The show’s original creators, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, have said that this trope illustrates one of the most important themes in ‘Avenue Q.’ Coleman was special as a kid but later, life threw up obstacles to his success, underscoring the inevitability of broken dreams and disappointment.
An unsavoury character is Trekkie Monster who spends his days looking at internet porn. “He is a selfish and grumpy character who doesn’t want to mix with people. But at the end of the show, he makes a massive grand gesture.”
Carre says Avenue Q is ultimately, a positive show. “You have Nicky who ends up on the streets homeless. But he works out how to get off the streets having learned why he ended up there.”