Avenue Q still gets an A

Last week while in New York I got to attend three different plays–Avenue Q, Spring Awakening, and Some Men–that I'm going to blog about this week. Up first is the Sesame Street inspired musical Avenue Q which is closing in on its fourth year as a Broadway smash. I confess to being less than enthused about seeing Avenue Q as it seemed a little bit like yesterday's news while I wanted to play with something brand new and shiny. Still, I loved the soundtrack and wanted to see it.

Man, am I glad I did as I'd have to say Q has to rank in the top ten Broadway shows I've seen. And judging from the reaction of the crowd, I'd say they agreed with me and had one hell of a good time. Part of what made the show so much fun is how damned subversive it is. You've got these adorable Muppets singing these bright, catchy pop songs about some rather dark topics. One character sings about how complicated love can be in “There's A Fine, Fine Line”. Other songs are about racism, taking joy in others misery, depression, and even the notion that sometimes we have to settle for the fact that life hasn't worked out quite the way we expected. Just like their Sesame Street counterparts these Muppets teach their viewers some pretty important messages about how to live life.

And did I mention how wildly pro-gay the show is? The characters of Rod and Nicky are basically Bert and Ernie (who everyone always assumed we're a gay couple anyway). In Q, only Rod is gay and is deeply in love with Ernie Nicky. Nicky knows Rod (who is an uptight, closeted, Wall Street investor) is gay and doesn't care. In fact, he even tries to help Rod come out in the song "If You Were Gay" where he tells his friend that his sexuality doesn't make a whit of difference to him. (Here is a very funny interview with three of the characters and includes Rod's "coming out" on national television.)

The funniest line of the evening came when Rod, struggling with his sexuality, turns to Christmas Eve (she's a struggling therapist) for advice about what to do. She assures him that being gay is just part of the human experience and nothing to be ashamed of. When he mentions he's also a Republican and a Wall Street banker, Christmas Eve reacts by saying that in that case, Rod really doesn't have a purpose in life. The audience howled at that one.

One of the things that amazed was that even though the show is nearly four years old, you'd never have a clue. The music, the actors, the staging all seem utterly fresh and spot on. For me, the highlight was out actor Howie Michael Smith who played Rod and Princeton. The role was originated by the amazing John Tartaglia, but Smith brings so much joy and verve to the role that he makes it entirely his own. He and the rest of the cast are simply amazing. Do yourself a favor and see this show!

Here they are performing on the Tonys for which they won Best Musical.

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