Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Master of puppets

Last weekend I went legit, catching Avenue Q at the Wynn Las Vegas before it ends its run May 31. (The musical was to remain here indefinitely, according to the original plan. But soon it gets replaced rather than joined by Monty Python's Spamalot.) While bringing Broadway to Las Vegas hasn't been an immediate success, I still think it's a good idea. And it's catching on: Mamma Mia! is in residence at Mandalay Bay, Hairspray does a stint at the Luxor, and The Phantom of the Opera comes soon to the Venetian.

Hey, Princeton, I'm still trying to figure it out. Like me, Princeton has a B.A. in English and no clear purpose. Priced out of living on the streets earlier in the alphabet, he rents a place on Avenue Q with a mixed cast of puppets and humans. They learn lessons about life through ridiculously inappropriate songs, and all is well.

Like Sesame Street, the stage action is interrupted by interludes of animated text. (I'd actually wished they'd made more visual aids; those were hysterical.) There's also an obvious tribute to Bert and Ernie with puppet roommates Rod and Mickey. Rod is both Republican and closeted homosexual.

Unlike Sesame Street, the colorful puppets are held at eye level by puppeteers who remain in plain view. This is actually one of the production's low budget charms: we see the puppeteers act along as they voice their characters, rather than shield their expressions like ventriloquists.

Expecting a much raunchier production, I was pleased that the musical didn't spend too much time trying to shock and offend. True, much of the song lyrics are racy, but the overall experience is upbeat and positive. Really, it's neither highbrow nor lowbrow, but at the same time not the most accessible of Broadway's offerings to a Las Vegas crowd.

Now free of its exclusive commitment, Avenue Q will tour the rest of North America. You'd be wise to attend.


Oscar Madison said...

You don't have to have a Master of Puppets degree to figure out that Vegas is the perfect venue for Broadway musical productions. Why wait for for all the casino-goers to make their way to New York to see Cats, when you can bring the show to them?

ginsvo: the Ginsu knife adapted for late-night Scandinavian TV ads.

Neel Mehta said...

Masters degree in Puppets? Why didn't I think of that? Great, another academic regret.

As far as musicals go, Vegas audiences (which I imagine are mostly tourists) seem to want spectacle more than a rewarding experience. Cats might actually do well here.

And plays? Even the local theatres are dying.

Julie said...

I heard that Avenue Q was shortened (I don't know if that means edited for content) in the Vegas version. Wonder if they will use the Vegas version for the tour.
And please stop mentioning Cats!

Neel Mehta said...

It was edited for content. 90 minutes, no intermission. The Wikipedia link above (click on "original plan") explains the changes made. Had I known the full version was shown the first few months, I'd have gone then.

And please stop mentioning Cats!


Asian Provocateur said...

hey neel -- i'm taking a trip to NYC with my mom after the bar. do you think avenue q is appropriate to watch with a parent? really want to avoid awkward moments when the puppets are having sex and all....

also keep in mind that my mom does not speak english v. well but generally able to understand most. is the humor nuanced/technical? or do you think she would enjoy it?

Neel Mehta said...

AP: You would love Avenue Q. Too bad you can't go.

The content, in my opinion, is borderline offensive -- they advertise full puppet nudity, and I'm pretty sure the full-length Broadway version goes further than the one scene/song I saw.

Your mother may find some of it funny, but the humor in a lot of the jokes and all of the songs are probably too nuanced and fast for her to catch.