I grew up with Sesame Street, Big Bird and Cookie Monster were my homeboys. My entire room (and most of my wardrobe, toy collection, etc) was plastered with paraphernalia until the age of 6 or so.
Flash forward 20+ years, and I am a Muppet-addicted adult. Opening my gifts on my birthday just a few weeks ago a huge smile cracked my face when I pulled out a stuffed Big Bird and Cookie Monster, replacing those I’ve lost in the years since my childhood, and one of my most awesome Christmas presents was the Muppet version of Yahtzee (Kermit’s head is the shaker cup).
Naturally, when I pulled the Avenue Q handbill out from my Spring Awakening program late last November, I knew I HAD to go, no ifs, ands or buts.
Avenue Q opened off Broadway in 2003. Written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Avenue Q tells the tale of 20-somethings post arts degree, trying to find their “purpose” in life. What separates Q from most conventional musicals is the use of puppets, manipulated in plain sight, alongside human actors. The show riffs off the well-known format used by Sesame Street and other children’s shows, and requires more suspension of disbelief from the audience.
I was fortunate enough to weasel my way into a single ticket for the Saturday evening show of the sold out run after it looked like I was out of luck (and I panicked. Hook-ups rock). There was no way I was missing it.
Seating was rush. When I arrived at the Gas Station at 7:40 (doors opened at 7:30) the line snaked around the lobby, out the door, and around the courtyard in front of Subway. Energies were high, it seemed like this would be a great audience.
And it was. The audience was super receptive, laughing their heads off, and even aww-ing at the more melodramatic parts. The show was rude, crude, and hilarious, and everything I had hoped for. I was not disappointed.
The show was presented by District Theatre Collective. The cast, largely comprised of UW graduates, was committed to their roles, human or plush. Astrix in the program denote “useless bachelors degrees in arts”, and nearly every cast and crew member had one, but they are clearly not failing post diploma. The show is directed by UW Theatre Honours grad Connie Manfredi, who also played (human) Gary Coleman, supervisor of the block, and always good for a laugh.
The set was a run down version of the street we all know, and the friends we meet on Avenue Q are all friendly for the most part, if not without their idiosyncrasies. My favourite characters were Trekkie Monster, an adult take on Cookie Monster (let’s just say he sounds the same, but his obsession is more adult themed than baked goods), played by Colin Peterson, who also played one half of my other favourite characters, the Bad Idea Bears. These adorable but nasty bears negatively influence the other characters like two devils on their shoulders, and even initiate an evening of puppet debauchery (the show carries a parental advisory, warning against full puppet nudity. It also carries a disclaimer that it is not related to or approved by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop).
The few flaws in the show were technical, with a couple bouts of very loud feedback. Paige Pooley, playing Kate Monster, an ambitious kindergarten assistant searching for a date, experienced some microphone difficulties as it cut in and out throughout the second act, but all was forgiven by the audience, with the two hour running time seeming like it zoomed by.
The show fits in nicely with other puppet based shows such as Crank Yankers, Puppets Who Kill and, my personal favourite, MTV2’s Wonder Showzen, which all came out around the early to mid 2000s (maybe there was some strong puppet nostalgia going around?). If you are fortunate enough to hold or find tickets to tonight’s closing show, I definitely recommend it. Rumour has it MTC may have picked up the rights and will be resurrecting it on a grander scale in their next season, and I say you would be foolish in missing it the second time around.