Tony Awards 2004: BEST MUSICAL, BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL, BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Avenue Q is a newer Broadway show that has gotten lots of attention because most of its main characters are puppets. Probably everyone is saying this, but to get an idea of what this show is like, imagine if Sesame Street had puppets who cussed and characters who tried to get busy with each other.

Avenue Q opened off broadway in March 2003 at the Vineyard Theatre. Opening day on Broadway was July 31, 2003. Technical stuff: It was based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (who also wrote the music and lyrics for the show), the book is by Jeff Whitty, and Rick Lyon created and designed the puppets. The production is directed by Jason Moore. Many others contributed all along the way; for a full list of managers, designers, and producers, you can view the list at the musical's website, AvenueQ.com .

The characters:

  • PRINCETON, the main character. He is just out of college and making his way through the transition from "student" to "real life"--and is obsessed with finding his "purpose." (Princeton is a human puppet played by John Tartaglia.)

  • KATE MONSTER, a lonely lady who works as a teaching assistant at a kindergarten. She's smart and funny, so why doesn't she have a boyfriend? (Kate is a monster puppet played by Stephanie D'Abruzzo.)

  • BRIAN, a thirty-something who's just gotten engaged--and laid off from his job. (Brian is a human non-puppet played by Jordan Gelber.)

  • CHRISTMAS EVE, Brian's fiancée, a therapist who has a thick Japanese accent and no clients. (Christmas Eve is a human non-puppet played by Ann Harada.)

  • ROD, a "straight man" (or maybe not so straight). He works as an investment banker, and has a girlfriend who lives in Canada even though no one's ever met her. (Really! He's NOT gay!) He drives his roommate Nicky up the wall because of his anal housekeeping habits. (Rod is a human puppet played by John Tartaglia.)

  • NICKY, a happy-go-lucky guy who plays Ernie to Rod's Bert. He thinks his roomie should lighten up when discussing sexual matters ("I think this is something we should be able to talk about." "THIS CONVERSATION IS OVER!"). He drives Rod up the wall by being a slob. (Nicky is a human puppet played by Rick Lyon.)

  • GARY COLEMAN, the superintendent of Avenue Q. Former child star, now broke and bitter about his stigma; you'd better not ask him "Whutchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" (Gary is a human non-puppet played by Natalie Venetia Belcon.)

  • LUCY THE SLUT, a singer/dancer at THAT kind of club. Likes to make people feel "special"--for an hour or two. (Lucy is a human puppet played by Stephanie D'Abruzzo.)

  • TREKKIE MONSTER, a big hermit who is obsessed with the Internet. Or rather, he's obsessed with the porn on the Internet, and is not the least bit ashamed of that fact. (Trekkie is a monster puppet played by Rick Lyon.)

    (There are several other characters like Mrs. T. and the Bad Idea Bears, but these are the main ones.)

The plot:

    So, Princeton shows up on Avenue Q looking for a cheap place to live. He comes in on the group discussing whose life sucks the most--Brian thinks it's his, because he lost his job; Kate thinks it's hers because she can't get a boyfriend; Rod and Nicky think it's theirs because they're irritating each other; Christmas Eve thinks it's hers because life is hard for foreigners and she has no clients and she has an unemployed fiancé. Of course, they finally agree that it is their superintendent, Gary Coleman, who has it the worst. ("I feel better now," says Brian, when Gary tells of his woes.) Princeton gets his keys from Gary, and the group welcomes him to Avenue Q.

    We get to zoom in temporarily on an argument between Rod and Nicky, where Nicky talks about a guy hitting on him and Rod is made very uncomfortable by the discussion of homosexuality. Nicky assures Rod that if he were gay, he could say so and it wouldn't bother Nicky, but Rod just gets mad and keeps telling him to shut up so he can read his favorite book (Broadway Musicals of the 1940s). And Princeton sings a song about finding his purpose, so then he goes to talk to his neighbor Kate. They discuss their life goals, and Kate reveals that even though she is just a lowly kindergarten teaching assistant, she really wants to open a school just for monsters. (Here I'll make a distinction: Kate is a monster, and Princeton is not, but they are both puppets.) Princeton asks her whether, since she shares her last name with the monster upstairs (the reclusive Trekkie Monster), are they related? She responds by calling him racist, and everyone gets in on it, discussing racism and finally deciding that everyone's a little bit racist, so it's actually kind of funny.

    Kate gets assigned an important job of teaching the kids her own lesson, and is considering teaching about the Internet until Trekkie bursts in and rants about how the Internet is basically for porn, and then everyone else backs him up on this, making Kate utterly disgusted with men. Princeton comes over afterwards and offers her a mix tape he's made for her, and she realizes he might "like" her (though the songs on the tape could indicate that they're just friends, that he's madly in love with her, or that he thinks she's fat). She thinks it didn't mean anything when he admits he's about to go make mix tapes for everyone else, but then he asks her on a date for that night. She accepts, and squeals "He likes me!"

    That night they go to the date, which actually ends up being the whole group going to see Lucy the Slut at the Round the Clock Café. They have some fun and some drinks. A couple of instigators, the Bad Idea Bears, convince Princeton to take Kate home because she's "wasted," so he does so, and they proceed to have very noisy sex, waking up half the neighborhood. Gary Coleman deals with the complaints by telling everyone to shut up and let them do their thing. (Christmas Eve and Brian are having their own fun, and you can kinda hear Trekkie Monster getting in on it, though he appears to be alone--wonder what HE'S doing??) Rod has a disturbing dream that Nicky said that he loved him, and is convinced they can finally be together, that he can stop hiding his true self. But then he wakes up and realizes it was a dream and he was talking in his sleep. Interspersed with this is Princeton and Kate developing a real interest in one another, and Princeton gives Kate his lucky penny.

    Brian and Christmas Eve have their wedding, and at the reception Rod overhears Nicky suggesting to others that he might be gay. He bursts in and tells everyone about his girlfriend who lives in Canada, and then in return for what he said, Rod kicks Nicky out of their apartment, making him homeless. Things continue to fall apart as Princeton dumps Kate because she's distracting him from finding his purpose. Poor Kate.

    In the second act, everyone's up the creek. Princeton won't leave his apartment because he's depressed, and he loses his job for being depressing on the phone. The gang tries to drag him out for a day of fun and he ends up going home with Lucy the Slut for some pity sex, or something. When Kate sees that she gets really annoyed and confides in Christmas Eve, who of course knows about getting along with a difficult person (being that she's now married). Christmas Eve tells her a lot of the time if you want to kill someone, it's a sign of love. Kate goes off to leave a nice note for Princeton saying to meet her on top of the Empire State Building, but Lucy finds the note instead and tears it up.

    Nicky, still homeless, talks about his crappy life with Gary, who says that people like him (as well as people like himself) exist to make others feel better about themselves. And Kate waits on top of the building for Princeton, who of course never shows because he never got the note. Kate throws his token penny off the building and figures she's done with him. (Weirdly, the penny falls and bonks Lucy on the head--hell of a bonk at 102 stories! That's karma for ya.)

    Everyone starts reminiscing about how wonderful it was when they were in college and on the brink of such a bright life of possibility, and they start wishing they could all just go back there. Princeton runs into Nicky, who's asking for handouts on the street, and through giving him some money and feeling great about it, he realizes he needs to focus on giving rather than getting. He decides to get everyone to help him raise money to give to Kate, which will help her not only build her school for monsters, but probably up his chances of getting back with her.

    At first they don't have much success getting money, but then they hit up Trekkie Monster, who is impressed by the idea of a school for monsters and decides to give them all the money he's made in investing in porn. (That's ten million dollars. Seriously, why's he still living on Avenue Q?)

    So, everything turns out pretty good: Kate gets her Monsterssori school, Rod comes out of the closet and asks Nicky to come back to live with him, Nicky gets Rod a boyfriend, and Kate agrees to give a relationship with Princeton a try again. But there's one little problem: Princeton STILL hasn't found a purpose. Inspired by a new kid coming to live on the street, he thinks it'd be great to put together a SHOW about post-college life! That's his purpose! Well, no--everyone else shoots him down and tells him he's stupid. Oh well. They comfort him and tell him the present is what it is, and everything is just for now, for better or for worse. The end.

The music:

The soundtrack is available through the Victor label, © 2003 BMG Music. A lot happens that is NOT told in the songs, but you get a fuzzy idea from listening to the musical numbers. It's highly recommended.

  1. The Avenue Q Theme--Sounds disturbingly like Sesame Street's theme, about life on this low-rent street.

  2. What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?/It Sucks To Be Me--This is where Princeton wanders in all doe-eyed, and sees the neighborhood residents arguing about their lives sucking.

  3. If You Were Gay--Nicky tells Rod it'd be okay if he was gay, "I'd like you anyway!"

  4. Purpose--Princeton's goal song.

  5. Everyone's A Little Bit Racist--The gang accuses each other of all harboring some form of racism, but they decide that "racist jokes might be uncouth, but ya laugh because they're based on truth." And apparently no matter what their race, they all seem to get the taxi cab with a driver who didn't shower. (Except Gary, who claims he can't even get a taxi.)

  6. The Internet Is For Porn--Trekkie's moment to shine, on the subject of his highest knowledge. Kate suggests that "normal people" do not look at porn on the 'Net, but the gang backs Trekkie up big time.

  7. Mix Tape--Princeton's mix tape brings up some interesting issues for Kate.

  8. I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today--Brian warms up the crowd at the Around the Clock Café by doing this introduction. His fiancée shoots him down by yelling "Get a job!" at the end. "Thank you . . . HONEY."

  9. Special--Lucy the Slut's song.

  10. You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)--Mostly sung by Gary, regarding noise complaints over loud sex. "Are we being too loud?" "NAH, kids! You just keep doin' what you doin'!" Interspersed heavily with sex noises between puppets.

  11. Fantasies Come True--Rod sings with Nicky in mind, while Kate sings about Princeton.

  12. My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada--It's Rod's denial song! He keeps mixing up whether she lives in Alberta or if that is her name.

  13. There's a Fine, Fine Line--Kate realizes Princeton might be a waste of time, now that she's been hurt.

  14. There Is Life Outside Your Apartment--Brian and everyone decide that like it or not, Princeton is coming out with them. They go around the city and talk about how "there is cool shit to do, but it can't come to you." At the end Princeton decides to let Lucy make him feel special.

  15. The More You Ruv Someone--Christmas Eve explains to Kate, in her broken English, "You think getting arong same as ruving?" Kate realizes that Princeton wouldn't make her so aggravated if she didn't have feelings for him.

  16. Schadenfreude--Words of wisdom dispensed to Nicky by Gary Coleman. Apparently, "Schadenfreude" is a German word for "Happiness at the misfortune of others." The most hilarious song on the album, in my opinion.

  17. I Wish I Could Go Back to College--Ahh, the drippy sentimental song about the past. Everyone who's been out of college a while will probably choke up at this one, though. "Sitting in the computer lab/4 AM before the final paper is due/Cursing the world 'cause I didn't start sooner/And seeing the rest of the class there too!"

  18. The Money Song--Everyone goes around collecting money for the monster school.

  19. School for Monsters/The Money Song (Reprise)--Trekkie remembers going to regular school and being teased because he was a monster, and so he decides to give up his porn earnings to the cause.

  20. There's a Fine, Fine Line (Reprise)/What Do You Do With a B.A. In English? (Reprise)--The pair gets back together, and Princeton thinks he might've found his purpose when he sees a recent grad wondering exactly what he had at the beginning.

  21. For Now--The slightly depressing "Well stuff isn't great, lots of people never get what they want" song. "'Til our dreams come true, we live on Avenue Q!"

More information on the show, the cast, and the soundtrack can be found at their Web site, www.AvenueQ.com .

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