Hey, TWR readers,
As a way of starting this blog off, I wanted to talk about an excellent experience I had this past week. As you read this blog going forward, it will be no surprise that I enjoy musical theater. As a challenge for 2017, I am made it my own personal point to attend one live event every month. For the month of May, and as a gift from a dear friend, I attended a performance of “Avenue Q.” This off-Broadway production remains one of the longest-running performances. If anyone has seen the production, they know why. The musical is currently being housed by New World Stages on West 50th Street, a deceptively small theater – until you descend its steps. Once inside, the theater holds five stage spaces. “Avenue Q” stands directly opposite the theater for “Church & State”, the current Off-Broadway Alliance Awards Best New Play nominee. Once inside, the small theater envelops you, drawing you toward the very simple appearing stage design: an apartment network made of faux brick – our Avenue Q. My friend and I scored orchestra row C tickets. Personally, I love orchestra seats. Many prefer mezzanine for better optics. But there is nothing like witnessing actors at work, spit flying across the stage, the tension and energy rippling through the actor’s faces with every line, every movement.
At this point, what more can be said about a Tony award winning performance which has garnered as much attention now as it first received back in 2003? Indeed, this production hit Broadway during a very competitive Tony Award season, sparking a dash between it, Wicked, and Taboo, a season documented in “ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway” (2007). The show tells the story of Princeton (played by Ben Durocher, alumnus of the Jim Henson Company), a recent college graduate who studied English and finds himself at the end of the line in New York, having come all the way from Avenue A. Princeton’s journey to find his purpose in life leads him all the way through love and friendship. Did I mention that much of the cast is commandeered by incredible puppets and puppeteers?
Perhaps this remains the most fascinating thing about “Avenue Q” itself. The production tackles real issues like sex, relationships, and yes, pornography, while using objects we have come to associate with Sesame Street. Indeed, much of the shock stems from that alone, much like dealing with a bunch of clean-cut Mormons threatens the way we might look at a production like “The Book of Mormon.” Indeed, much of the South Park humor is what makes the production so great. While much of what Broadway does today mirrors Hollywood at large – remaking old successes and running on pure nostalgia for old and even young audiences – “Avenue Q” remains fresh and contemporary, even after 13 years into its run. Crude, delightfully offensive, and just plain funny, it is a mark of what live theater can be, something I don’t think Robert Lopez anticipated when he pitched the idea.
So, if you are in New York or have never seen the musical but want to, do so. New World Stages itself is very cozy, there is no bad spot in the theater itself. Prepare yourself for a night of rowdy fun. Prepare yourself to witness Broadway history.