Thursday, June 6, 2013

Avenue Q, Austin Theatre Project, May 30 - June 16, 2013

Avenue Q Austin Theatre Project
alt review

By Brian Paul Scipione

Can You Show me How to Get to Avenue Q?

Long past are the days when musicals were solely the domain of prancing pirates and line dancing debutantes. The villains sang in baritone and the hero, a lilting tenor, as he won, lost and re-won the girl in different fantastical settings. There is the theme song, the hero’s lament, the song that exposes the girl’s conflicting feelings, the growling villain’s rant-song, and a choral effort by all the scrappy townsfolk who may help or hinder the hero. Oh yes, and a lot of love songs.

And though Avenue Q doesn’t stray too far from this formula it is part of the movement of modern musicals away from Disney-like, parentally approved, mores. Controversy and transgression has indubitably long been the territory of the dramatic arts, but singing about it joyfully has only come into the mainstream of Broadway during the last twenty years or so.

And Broadway loves it! Avenue Q won Tony Awards for best musical, best book, and best score in 2004. 2011’s Tony Award winning musical The Book of Mormon suggests that this isn’t going to change anytime too soon. Musicals have been tackling larger issues and using melody to express complex emotions since their inception. West Side Story is about gang warfare, murder, and racism. Yet it approaches these issues with kid gloves. The 1993 Tony Award winning musical Kiss of the Spider Woman was one of the first to include the grittiness and crudity that were attached to its themes on stage. In other words, it wasn’t afraid to try to make the audience cringe.

In the case of Avenue Q, this translates to onstage puppet sex. For this reason it is often billed as Sesame Street for adults. It isn’t out to change the world or hide its harsh realities from the audience. In the end it straddles the line between fun and message by introducing subjects like getting fired, being crushed by bills, and wanting companionship, and then dismissing them as things no one can do anything about.

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