Avenue Q Enjoys Rent Controlled Off-Broadway Living

Avenue Q Enjoys Rent Controlled Off-Broadway Living

The first time I saw Avenue Q was in 2005 while it was playing on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre. At the time, I was a little younger than Princeton, the show’s protagonist who just finished college and wonders how he’s going to make it in the real world with a BA in English and no practical life skills. Here we are 10 years later and I got a chance to see Avenue Q Off-Broadway at New World Stages, its home since 2009. I still very much relate to Princeton’s plight to find his life’s purpose despite his limited experiences. That character is me to a T, with a few small differences. For example, I earned a BS in Telecommunications (and a MS in Journalism…). Also, I’m not a puppet.

Yes, Princeton is a puppet and so are some of his friends on Avenue Q. Some of said puppets are also monsters and the audience just needs to accept all of this because suspension of disbelief is important for one’s viewing experience. The puppets and their human neighbors (chubby unemployed white guy Brian, his Japanese fiancée Christmas Eve, and Gary Coleman—yes, the Gary Coleman—who is also the building Super) coexist and try to bring out the best in each other regardless of everyone falling on some hard times. There are roommate spats, lovers’ quarrels, financial woes and some Bad Idea Bears who enthusiastically encourage irresponsible behavior. It’s easy to care about these characters because their problems are our own. Who hasn’t wondered when they would land a great job? Or find that special someone? Or secure an affordable apartment in NYC that doesn’t suck?

Avenue Q continues to enchant audiences thanks to its whip-smart book by Jeff Whitty and clever music and lyrics from Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (who also co-wrote songs for The Book of Mormon and Disney’s Frozen). Though the set looks like a shady neighborhood adjacent to the one depicted in Sesame Street, this musical is definitely not for the younger crowd. Instead of learning the ABCs on Avenue Q, life lessons learned range from “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” to “The Internet is For Porn.” Puppet sex happens, folks. So does puppet homelessness and puppet proselytizing.

Four actors (Stacie Bono, Kerri Brackin, Jason Jacoby and Seth Rettberg) cover the puppet roles, sometimes working together to animate a single live-hand puppet or working alone to manipulate the one- or two-rod puppets. The actors wear all black and are fully visible on stage while using the puppets, providing facial expressions where their puppets cannot. It’s fun switching focus between the puppet and the performer because their personalities and body movements are so completely in sync you really can’t picture one without the other. Sometimes a performer provides voices for multiple puppets on stage at once. That sounds like it would get confusing to watch, but it never does because of how talented the cast is.

It is not a surprise that Avenue Q has been running in New York for more than a decade. The songs are crazy catchy and the show itself will make you think just as much as it makes you laugh. The musical’s plot points about unemployment, homosexuality and relationship issues during times of emotional and financial insecurity are just as relevant today as they were when the show opened. Maybe even more so for some of us millennials. But, as rough as things get for the characters and perhaps even the audience, we just have to remember, “except for death and paying taxes, everything in life is only for now.”

Winner of Best Musical at the 2004 Tony Awards, Avenue Q continues its run on Stage 3 at New World Stages.

Photo by: Carol Rosegg

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