Avenue Q: We Can Tell You How to Get to It (Go to Phoenix Theatre)
The setup: Avenue Q, a sort of adults-only musical parody of Sesame Street that exists and functions, nevertheless, completely independently of the kids' show, opened in 2003 and won a cluster of Tonys. One would think its songs and subject matter, apparently quite topical at the time, would feel dated and stale by now, but happily for the show (maybe not so happily for the prospects of people like its 22-year-old characters), it works as well as ever.
courtesy of Phoenix Theatre Colin Ross (right) and two unseen puppeteer/actors operate part of the ensemble of Avenue Q during the number "Purpose."
Phoenix Theatre's current production, a revival of its 2011 staging, still has two more weekends to run and, surprisingly, a lot of you have never seen Avenue Q and you need to remedy that immediately.
See also: Nearly Naked Theatre and All Puppet Players Present Fifty Shades of Felt
The execution: I had certainly heard of this play. Though its national Broadway tour was delayed because someone in Las Vegas had what turned out to be a pretty crappy idea (which people in entertainment, like the rest of us, have all the time), it's been popular from the get-go. My companion was a genuinely cosmopolitan, stage-lovin' gal who, surprisingly, had never heard of Avenue Q and didn't know it was the original filthy (relatively speaking) musical with puppets.
In the beginning, AQ creators Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx were breaking a lot of ground in both American musical theater and serious stage puppetry (the latter of which became much more of an all-ages-targeted genre afterward). Some of the show's characters are played by human actors, while the ones who are puppets are operated by performers who do not conceal their faces but use them to supplement the puppets' expression of emotion, which feels so natural you wind up almost never noticing or considering it.
There's no distinction in the script between puppets and humans -- everyone's a human being, basically. There is a song called "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" that's prompted by a discussion of the divide between "monsters" (which some but not all of the puppets are) and "non-monsters," and during the song we find that the characters also harbor routine stereotypes and insensitivities about people of color and varying religions. I'm not even sure why I think I needed to explain that, except that there is no other play quite like this one.