01 September 2003

By the way, if you're ever in New York, you've got to see Avenue Q, which is the funniest, fuzziest, most beautiful musical I've seen in a long, long time. The concept is easy to explain, but it's difficult to convey how pitch-perfect the execution is: it's Sesame Street for neurotic recent college graduates, complete with Muppets and educational animated clips that tackle such touchy topics as one-night stands, Internet porn, unemployment, and Schadenfreude. The plot follows a young Muppet named Princeton as he tries to find his purpose in life while learning to live with a street of eccentric puppet neighbors, including Katy Monster, Lucy The Slut, and the closeted gay couple Ray and Nicky. (Any resemblance to Bert and Ernie is, of course, completely coincidental.) It sounds tasteless, but it's actually wonderfully respectful and affectionate towards Sesame Street. Best of all, it's educational for twentysomethings in the way that Sesame Street was when we were toddlers. Sample songs: "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?"; "If You Were Gay"; "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist"; and of course, "I Want to Go Back to College." I wish there were a cast album so that I could all point you to the lyrics page.

Watching it, I felt a little like I felt when I saw High Fidelity back in 2000: someone had made a movie (or, in this case, a musical) that said so many things worth saying about my own life that my own attempts at autobiographical fiction seemed superfluous. It's astonishing how much I found myself relating to these puppets. I especially liked the Bad Idea Bears, who appear out of nowhere with such bright ideas as: "Have a beer!" or "Make a pass! She's wasted!" I want to buy tickets for all of my friends, except I'm afraid they'd recognize too much of themselves (and me) in the characters. But even if you aren't twentysomething and terrified of the real world (and if you aren't, what are you doing reading this blog?) Avenue Q is worth seeing just as a technical tour-de-force: the cast are all experienced puppeteers, usually with eight to ten years' experience on Sesame Street, and because they're always visible along with their puppets, the technique on display is just staggering. According to the program notes, there are only about 40 active puppeteers in New York, and they're all so used to working together that they have natural rapport onstage. In its own way, it's encouraging and inspiring how these puppeteers were able to make it big and to Broadway, even in today's wintry economic climate.

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