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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Avenue Q review (Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles)

avenue_q_publicity_group.jpgFinally, I saw Avenue Q, the show that I’ve wanted to see for almost four years, since Friday, January 16, 2004. I first wanted to see this show when I heard Stan played us the soundtrack during the van ride to the LCC retreat. Ah, good old times, the school doesn’t even allow those vanpools anymore because they consider it dangerous… but that’s beside the point. I’m just giving you an idea of how I first knew about Avenue Q.

Anyway, when we heard the songs, everyone was really entertained by what they were hearing. “It Sucks to be Me”? “If You Were Gay”? “Internet Is for Porn”? “The More You Love Someone (the More You Want to Kill Them)”? The songs were hilarious, and when Stan said that it’s a puppet show, I thought, “Man, I’ve got to see this!” And finally, it’s on tour and came to Los Angeles!

And now, let the review begin. If you haven’t seen the show…
WARNING: Lots of spoilers ahead!!!

Overall: Entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable

Overall, it was a lot of fun. The overall tone is pretty light-hearted. The songs are hilarious, while at the same time, have lots of truisms in them. I was no longer cracking up during the songs, because I’ve already listened to the soundtrack about a hundred times and know exactly which line is coming up, but my friend, who has only heard of “Everyone’s a lil bit Racist” was laughing hard throughout, and so is the rest of the crowd. Still, watching the songs performed still brought a smile to my face. Many things still cracked me up, like the conversation between songs (for example, “He useless. Tell him to stay in closet.”) and the stage effects (for example, Christmas Eve’s dress). After all, an important element in comedy is surprise, and this show certainly does not lack it. And it was good to see the show. I’d totally be down to watch it again.

The songs

I think they at least wrote some of the songs before they even wrote the story. The song writers drew more from common experiences from real life than from the actual characters in the story, I felt, so there’s elements for every single member of the audience to identify with. We’ve all been through and/or are still encountering things like finding a purpose, not knowing what to do after college, frustrations at work, race issues, money issues, love issues, etc. The story was more or less an excuse to sing those songs, and I, for one, dig that kind of writing. It works for this show.

“Avenue Q Theme”: Before I saw the show, I was wondering what they were going to do with this song, because “It Sucks to be Me”, the song that introduces most character, is after it. I was wondering if they were going to have the whole cast sing it on stage, but that seem redundant. I was thinking maybe they’d just play it while showing nothing on stage, but that might be kinda boring and strange. So what did they do? They showed a cute cartoon on the screens. It was cute and it was a good set-up that basically says, “Hey audience, pay attention to me (TV screen). I’m a device that we’ll be using in the show throughout.”

What Do You Do With a B.A. in English / It Sucks to Be Me: This is actually my favorite track on the soundtrack. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it performed so many times when Avenue Q appeared on Tony Awards and many talk shows. I like to sing the “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English” part a lot. When they appeared on TV, they usually don’t sing that part. The staging and lighting came out to be exactly what I expected. No surprise to me, but for most people, I think it’s a good introduction for people not already familiar with these characters. Many things were established: what their names are, what they do, what their problems are, what annoys them… were all laid out there. I like the quick introduction.

Purpose: In the recording, after Princeton sang “It’s a sign!”, he broke into this grand, exubirant musical number about finding his purpose. In the show, he waited a little bit and sang the next stanza in more of an introspective kind of voice before building up to the big fancy routine with boxes. I thought it worked very well. I liked the change there.

The Internet is for Porn: I like how the window frames lit up when “normal people” appeared at the windows. What a live show has that a CD is missing is the comical timings, gestures and audience responses. Here Trekkie Monster definitely took more time to give Kate strange looks when Kate said “normal people don’t sit at home and look at porn on the internet.” before saying “You have no idea!” I like the pause there.

(I Can Make You Feel) Special: I’ve seen this song performed in the Royalty Variety Performance (on YouTube, of course, since I’m not royalty), but for that performance, the puppeteer had the whole stage to work with and in the actual show, she interacted with the “audience” that’s sitting on stage (Gary Coleman, Kate Monster, Trekkie Monster, Brian, Princeton, etc.). In terms of puppeteering, I think the Royalty Variety Performance one did a better job, but I’m not sure if it’s because in the actual show she’s working with a more confined space, and had to hit certain spots on the stage to interact with certain characters.

Fantasies Come True: I really like the stage effects (more on that later). This was certainly dreamy.

There’s a Fine, Fine Line: This song certainly got a lot of the “aww…” reaction from the crowd… and I still get that even though I’ve already heard this song many many times. Kate in a dress is really cute.

There Is Life Outside Your Apartment: This song was kinda random, especially if you just listen to the soundtrack. On stage, there were props and visuals that they interacted with, so that worked much better.

The More You Ruv Someone: Wow, this is certainly Christmas Eve’s moment to shine. I felt the actress certainly brought “it” to the stage. This was awesome.

I Wish I Could Go Back to College: Ah, two years out of college and I can certainly feel this song. Heck, even my friend who’s just three months out of college can feel it. Ah, this is life.

The Money Song: When I saw this song performed at one of the fund-raisers (video no longer available on YouTube), they actually passed out hats. In the show, they passed out hats too, but I don’t know if people actually put money in. It was good to see. Musicals don’t usually interact with the audience that much than the more experimental productions.

For Now: In this part, there are many puppets on stage and the puppeteers are not necessarily singing for the puppet they are holding. It’s interesting to watch (for me, anyway). The hugs at the end are clever, because the people leaving the stage can steal puppets that’s no longer needed from puppeteers that need to stay on stage. There was an old post I wrote about this routine, but alas, the video is also no longer available.

Stage Effects

The screens: Ever since the device is introduced in the beginning, it’s been used throughout, especially when Princeton is thinking about his “purpose”. They made the clips they show Sesame Street / children’s educational television-ish. I like the countdown to intermission, and the one night stand / five night stands joke. And the “I guess I’ll give it a shot” (glass breaks) “Ah!!” line finally made sense. That was a fun way of playing with props. Heck, when you have puppets, you pretty much just go break any rule just because you can. I know I do that in my videos. My puppets play with things on the screen (like captions and stuff) all the time.

Fantasies Come True: In this song, Nikki and Rod’s bedrooms were shown… but the beds were vertical. This reminded me of this video of a bed scene done vertically… too bad it’s in Chinese though. And then the beds flying away was an interesting effect, certainly adding to the fantasy theme, along with the dry ice. And one puppet holding another up and spin around? Great way to make fun of movie/TV cliches while they don’t have any legs (I guess that’d be making fun of the fact that they are puppets too).

Brian and Christmas Eve’s wedding: Wow, what an awesome wedding dress. And then when “purpose” turned into “propose” on the screen, and Princeton started to have these scary thoughts… I really liked the big heads they put on Brian and Christmas Eve to make them look like Princeton and Kate Monster, and then the huge head of Kate Monster appearing from the back of the stage certainly was a surprise that cracked me up.

The stage: I like the stage. It looked just like a building that’s nothing special, but there are a lot of interesting things you can do with it. Besides using them as doors, entrances and exits, I really like the fact that they had many windows. That way, characters can just open their windows and join in the song any time without making a formal entrance. The window frames light up which is a good effect to draw attention. The same wall can also be Kate’s place, Nikki and Rod’s room, the Around-the-Clock Cafe and many more through the use of different lightings, displays, and so on. I really like how they used the same wall for all these things.

The callbacks

I really enjoy callbacks. When Princeton was picturing himself as different kinds of people by placing his face onto pictures, that was a perfect introduction for the later wedding routine. And Trekkie Monster’s “for porn” theme throughout, and that “Gary Coleman!” made the audience smile. I love callbacks.

The randomness

The boxes singing “Purpose” with Princeton was kinda random… and then there’s the Idea Bears. They are so stupid? (evil?) and whiny. It took me a lil bit to remember what they sound like. I think they sounded a bit like Leona and Lionel from Between the Lions when they were whining (of course, the lions weren’t constantly whining like the two bears).

The conclusion

Are we finally at the conclusion? (And wow, you are still reading?) If I didn’t love the show, I wouldn’t write so much about it, eh? I think that part is pretty obvious. Anyway, the show will only be in Los Angeles until this Sunday so if you are in Los Angeles and want to see it, find tickets quick!
Here’s the link to Avenue Q at Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
Here’s the tour schedule. Check to see if it’s coming to a city near you!

Comments

  1. gorjuss gi
    October 29th, 2007 | 7:24 pm

    umm, dude… ur review of this is so very thorough! congrats on the dedication. i was able to catch it on broadway while in new york. although i can’t compare with u in breaking down each point of interest, i must say, and u must obviously know, that “what do u do with a b.a. in english/it sucks to me” is quite HONESTLY ME. hah. i loved it. and i can so tell that a dude (gay perhaps, or maybe just a monster) with a b.a. in english wrote it :) and that warm feeling, gives me hope…

    glad to know u got a good discount at the ahmanson for it! in NY there’s tkts where u buy the tix last min the day of the show for 50% off there value. we were in row E (5th) for $50 tickets!

  2. October 30th, 2007 | 4:46 pm

    Yep, it was very thorough indeed. What a surprise. 😛

    Oh yeah, that song is perfect for people who have a B.A. in English like you, hehe.

    I believe the rush tickets at Ahmanson is even cheaper, but since it’s no guarantee to have tickets left, we didn’t go for that.

  3. September 3rd, 2012 | 1:11 am

    […] at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, California. It was great. Even though I already saw it five years ago, and I pretty much knew what was going to happen next, I still thoroughly enjoyed […]

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