As I sat down to write my thoughts for Avenue Q, it was easy to think, “Why should I write notes for this show? It’s absolute entertainment.” Then, I realized that it was important to help people recognize that there is much more to this show than meets the eye. As easy as it is to simply think of the show as “Sesame Street for adults,” there is much more to it.
A quick glance through television listings easily demonstrates that many forms of entertainment that have—in the past—been thought of as entertainment for children can not only interest adults but also convey very adult ideas. Now at 639 episodes, The Simpsons recently reached the landmark of becoming the longest running scripted series in primetime television. Other success are series like The King of the Hill, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, Archer and the long-running success, South Park (22 years). Obviously, the inner children in adults like to not only come out to play, but examine social and political issues in lighter contexts. Visually nostalgic characters often counter thematically adult narratives to great success.
The question is: “Why would the creators of Avenue Q choose to utilize this approach to a far extreme while still honoring iconic characters from Sesame Street?” In a nutshell, because it is easier for audiences to distance themselves from the offensive points the puppets raise. Prior to this past century, puppets were far more grown-up, they were not relegated to children. They were used to tell stories that were really too taboo for humans.
The puppets of Avenue Q are able to argue, shout, and belt out things that have certainly been considered but not spoken by many of you. They express their desires, their frustrations, and their ambitions. Along the way, they are frequently raw, offensive, and insulting. They live in the extremes in order to discover moments of clarity in their lives. Princeton, Kate, Rod, Nicky, Trekkie, and the rest are able to recognize that their individual ambitions mean little without community—friendships and relationships are ultimately more important than selfish desires.
Jim Henson died before Avenue Q made its Broadway debut. I do think, however, that he would openly embrace these brash characters as a part of the extended Sesame Street family. Though their mouths may be a bit fouler, they absolutely live with the same ideals that those of us who are Generation Xers remember growing up learning on his show. The Avenue Q gang absolutely teaches us the same idea: a diverse community is important to us as individuals.
— Michael J Barnes, Director