Monday, January 5, 2009 at 11:19 a.m.
When I first saw Avenue Q, on Broadway in the summer of 2005, I thought it was a perfect show. I also thought it was too of its moment to last. Avenue is a topical piece, and I assumed that it, like most things topical, had a sell-by date.
But here we are in 2009, and at 6 years old, Avenue Q hits twice as hard as it ever did. It is more relevant, funnier, and more necessary. It is about a bunch of 20- and early-30-somethings resisting assimilation into a market economy that ever seeks to de-bone, de-soul, and de-grade them. Throughout their struggles, Avenue's denizens receive advice from their building's sage-like superintendent, Gary Coleman (usually played by a woman, and not necessarily a short one) and sing songs with titles like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "The Internet Is for Porn." And as has been widely reported, most of Avenue's denizens are puppets: drinking, swearing, fucking, anatomically correct puppets who turn Avenue Q into a bittersweet elegy to the shattered expectations of Gen-X and Yers who were taught by Sesame Street to dream bigger than the world was willing to accommodate.
The traveling crew that's wound up at The Broward Center is just as good as 2005's Broadway cast, but I don't want to review their work. There are so many actors playing so many characters on various nights that you probably won't see the same people I did (though if you do, I promise you'll walk away impressed). Avenue's only technical problem is the venue itself: The Broward Center, so perfect for opera or orchestral music, turns into a hideous, booming echo-chamber every time someone plugs in a PA. At five or six especially loud moments throughout the show, the instrumentation coheses into a thick sonic sludge that sounds nothing like music. Don't blame the show: blame the ceilings.
I'd like to recommend Avenue Q for reasons that have nothing to do with this particular cast or production. I'd like to recommend it because, in all probability, you need a reason to feel good this month. And almost every song in Avenue Q has a way of boring, drill like, directly to the black center of some icky issue that tortures the modern American psyche -- especially the psyches of Americans between the ages of, say, 20 and 35.
Seriously. Even the throw-away songs. "If You Were Gay" and "My Girlfriend, Who Lives In Canada" are catchy, hilarious, and yet compared to the rest of the show, totally disposable reminders of how desperately silly we look when we try to, say, obscure the fact that we're gay by inventing fictitious girlfriends from Vancouver. "The More You Ruv Someone," reminds us, wisely, that "the more you ruv someone, the more you hate them" and "want them to die." But then there are the heavy-hitters, which soothe like psychic aloe in these brutal times. "You Can Be as Loud as The Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)" is about how fuckin' is still an awfully good cure for worryin'. "What Do You Do With a BA In English?" and "I Wish I Could Go Back To College" speaks to the deep anxiety shared by my fellow Gen X and Yers that, somewhere along the way, we forgot to grow up. "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," despite being six years old, hits on every single important point elucidated by our President Elect during his astonishing race speech last year (and in Avenue, the points are both clearer and funnier.
Best of all is "For Now," which serves as a helluva finale for Act II. It is a paean to compromise. The world is one callous bitch, it says, and your dreams may very well not come true. But hey -- you've got friends, right? You're not starving, are you? Who cares if you've got no money, and if your best bet is to trade in that longed-for career as a standup comic or a novelist for a few years temping for horrible insurance agencies? Whoever promised that life would be anything more? And what the hell is happiness, anyway? Isn't it provisional? If complicated life forms can exist inside superheated volcanic vents hundreds of miles beneath the ocean, can't contentment exist in a run-down apartment bloc on Avenue Q? For now, at least?
It seems to me that these questions are more worth asking at this moment than at any moment in recent memory. Struggling to find the romance and nobility in lowered expectations may be the great psychic job of this over-ambitious and under-worked generation. Avenue Q helps.
-- Brandon K. Thorp