August 6th, 2008

Rose-coloured Reviews *Avenue Q*

The musical Avenue Q has occasionally been compared to Jonathan Larson’s Rent except with puppets. Much as I enjoyed both musicals, I have to say this comparison is not apt; Avenue Q is a *parody* of Rent. Liking one is no guarantee of liking the other; in fact, if you are a terrifically intense fan of the dramatic, earnest change-the-world-one-block-at-a-time-ishness of Rent, it might really piss you off to see people and puppets waving their arms around and crooning, “Everyone’s a little bit racist!”

Not me (or at least not very much-the next line, “And that’s ok!” got me a little). The songs in Avenue Q are very very very funny, and often uncomfortably accurate. Like all the best parodies, Q loves its targets but doesn’t spare them, and that includes the audience. Songs like “Schadenfreude” and “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” (between love and wasting your time) make you cringe as you laugh, and that’s pretty impressive for puppets.

The other big comparison you hear for Avenue Q is with Jim Henson’s Muppets, and you definitely do see that in not only the fuzzy humanoid forms but also in the dexterity of the puppeteers. However, while Henson’s creations have at least a pretense of *not* being puppets, all I could think when the stage lights came up on Avenue Q is is “You can *see* the puppeteer!!!” It took me a while to adjust to seeing Kate Monster and Princeton, allegedly freely acting people, being trailed by actual people dressed in grey with their hands up the puppets’ shirts (none of the puppets have any legs). What’s amazing is how quickly my alarm disappeared. You really start seeing only one being in these units. It helps that the puppeteers are really actors, and give incredible performances with both their hands and their faces. When Kate Monster looks sadly down at the ground, so does her puppeteer, a concept that works amazingly well. I think all the puppeteers were moving their lips, but we had terrible seats (I could’ve stood on my seat and touched the ceiling [but I didn’t]) so this didn’t trouble me overmuch. The upside of seeing the people behind the puppets was more than worth it. The best moment of puppet-engineering is when the sexy bad-girl puppet leaves a room and, since the puppet has no lower body, the puppeteer swings her hips. Hilarious, and effective.

Great songs, great performers, cool puppets and stunts used to cool effect-what could be wrong? Well, in light of all that other stuff, it wasn’t *very* wrong, but, um, the story? Such as it was. Wondrous Fred recently called “Greatest Hits” musical storylines like *Mamma Mia* basically “song-delivery systems” and sadly so is the book for Q. The songs are pretty biting but also present the characters as semi-complex (well, it’s a musical) and confused. In dialogue, however, they are a seventh-grade guidance class on how to achieve maturity. The closeted gay guy has no motivation, the commitment-phobic guy has no motivation, the sloppy irresponsible guy has no motivation-eventually they just stop doing the self-destructive stuff they were doing. Oh, and the women just don’t have flaws to start with-except the slut.

This stuff wouldn’t be problematic, really (it’s a *musical*!) but towards the end of the second act, everyone starts squawking about how much they’ve “learned”. Couldn’t we have just left this as a cool entertainment with a few really insightful thoughts about social behaviour, without trying to crazy-glue a moral on it? Because, by my count, both major problem sets in the show were solved by money falling from the sky, and the last song (“For Now”, which is as brill as all the rest of the songs) is about making do with whatever you’ve got because it is what you’ve got.

Now, I’m totally recommending you see this show and I think you’ll love the whole thing, but really, *really* don’t try to learn too much from it. You might, actually, anyway, but that’s not much the point.

Back out on the car
RR

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