I remember first being introduced to the musical 'Avenue Q' while standing in line at the Times Square TKTS ticket booth in New York. My jaw was still permanently fixed to the floor thanks to the social experiment that is the chaos of Times Square. I was in the middle of a 7-day Broadway obsession where I was doing what all theatre fanatics do - forgoing everything else in order to spend all my money on Broadway theatre shows. The hallowed home of musical theatre was a childhood dream that came true and I intended to see as many shows as was humanly possible. No money would be spent on anything else.
At the time, 'Avenue Q' was an off-broadway production that was garnering great reviews and lots of buzz - returning after its initial Broadway run in 2004 where it snatched 3 Tony Awards away from the behemoth that is ‘Wicked'. I heard all this from the lovely sales agent in line who was incredibly enthusiastic about the show. I returned later that day to where I was staying with and he confirmed that it was a spectacular show, if not somewhat offensive. Being someone who believes that we should all be shocked a lot more often, I was intrigued.
However, it was my first time in New York and I wanted to see the shows that were on Broadway itself (20+) - so I decided to sacrifice shows such as Avenue Q, which I now realise was a mistake.
I wish I had gone to see it.
So it’s safe to say I was positively joyful when I found out that the show would be coming to South African shores.
Avenue Q is a comedy musical that tells the timeless story of Princeton who moves into a shabby New York apartment on Avenue Q where him and his friends engage in all sorts of tomfoolery. What makes the show special though is that Princeton is a puppet. In fact, all the characters are puppets. It’s been affectionately referred to as ‘Muppets for Adults’ for good reason - because the use of puppetry offers the production an opportunity to talk openly, honestly and comedically about difficult adult topics. The show tackles societal hotspots such as racism and pornography with a sense of humour that breaks even the toughest outer veneers. The show is offensive in the best possible way - forcing you to think about those topics that we often prefer to sweep under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.
It’s an important show, especially in a country like South Africa. We need more brave voices to speak up and tackle topics that are not politically correct - because it’s the only chance we have to truly understand each other. As human beings we need to be honest with ourselves and with others and tear off the masks that leave space between us. When we can talk about difficult topics in a detached way, we can make progress.
Humour does that. And so do puppets.
This is a show that you don’t want to miss.
It opens May 10th at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino.
My theatre club StageDoor will be doing a group event for this show where you can come and enjoy the puppet masterpiece with a bunch of enthusiastic, theatre-loving people.