The Making of AVENUE Q
AVENUE Q, the puppet musical for adults, opened on Broadway in 2003 and won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. It spawned Las Vegas and London productions, two national tours, a variety of international productions and
a high school version.
The show was originally conceived as a television series by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who wrote the music and lyrics. Eventually, the show was developed as a stage production with a book written by Jeff Whitty.
AVENUE Q is an “autobiographical and biographical” coming-of-age parable, satirizing the issues and anxieties associated with enter adulthood. Its characters lament that as children they were assured by television programs such as SESAME STREET, that they were “special” and “could do anything,” but as adults, they have discovered the their dismay that in the real world their options are limited, and they are no more “special” than anyone else.
AVENUE Q is notable for its use of puppets alongside human actors. Its unique cast of characters consists of three human characters and eleven puppet characters who interact as if human, SESAME STREET-style. The puppets are animated and voiced by actor/puppeteers who are are unconcealed onstage, but remain “invisible” relative to the storyline. That is, the puppets and human characters completely ignore the puppeteers, and the audience is expected to do so, as well.
The show draws considerable inspiration from SESAME STREET, and substantially imitates its format. Composer/lyricist Jeff Marx interned at the PBS program early in his career, and four of the original cast members, John Tartaglia, Stepanie D’Abruzzo, Jennifer Barnhart and Rick Lyon, were SESAME STREET performers. Three of the puppet characters are direct recognizable parodies of classic SESAME STREET puppets: the roommates Rod and Nicky are a riff on Bert and Ernier, while Trekkie Monster bears the distinctive voice and disposition of Cookie Monster (though not his obsession with baked goods). The production officially disclaims any connection with either Sesame Workshop or The Jim Henson Company.
All the characters, puppet and human, represent amalgamations of things and feelings Marx and Lopez had been going through personally. The characters are young adults searching for their “purpose” in life, facing real-world adult problems with uncertain outcomes, as opposed to the simplistic dilemmas and invariably happy resolutions faced by characters of children’s television programming. Much of the show’s ironic humor arises from its contrasts with SESAME STREET.