“You work real hard and the pay’s real low,
And every hour goes oh so slow”
On Thursday a friend and I went to see Avenue Q at Cain Park. I had seen Avenue Q about eight years ago in New York City, and laughed hysterically through the show. The musical, about a young man named Princeton, shows the life of young people after college. Princeton struggles with finding his purpose in life, paying the bills, and in relationships. The show is also famous for using puppets. Princeton, Kate Monster, and many other characters are puppets in the tradition of Sesame Street, with a noticable twist. In Avenue Q, the puppeteer is never hidden from view.
Needless to say, Avenue Q pays heavy homage to Sesame Street, with the combination of puppets and live actors, the musical style, and the “lessons” that Avenue Q teaches.
Cain Park’s production of Avenue Q was very similar to the production I saw in New York, with two exceptions.
The first exception was the fact that the setting of Avenue was altered. In New York, the show took place in New York City, with a key moment in the script taking place at the Empire State Building. In the Cain Park production, that was changed to the Terminal Tower, which is not the tallest building in Cleveland, but certainly the most iconic. At the end of the play as well, two characters are able to move out of Avenue Q, and find a place in Parma, a nice suburban neighborhood on the West side. These changes actually worked very well. Not everyone has been to New York, and the references to Cleveland does make the show seem much more immediate. (There was even a reference to Lolly the Trolly (you have to be from Cleveland to know.)) I did chuckle at hearing Princeton give the street address for the Terminal Tower, and I had an immediate reference for those streets. These weren’t simply random streets, these were streets I drive on, somewhat regularly. I know not only the streets but various different landmarks associated with those streets. Suddenly, Avenue Q seemed very close to home.
The other exception was the fact that the Cain Park production was a lower tech version of the show. The show in New York had a projection screen, where they would flash animations, similar to those found in Sesame Street. The best example of that was an animation in Act II. The Screen shows five night stands, and the cast shouts “Five Night Stands!” Then four of the night stands disappear, and the cast shouts, “One Night Stand!” Cain Park had the casts shouting, but they had no animated night stands. Now, I knew what was going on, because I had seen the New York show. However, I don’t think I would have understood that if I had not seen the show. I would have been thinking, “Why are they talking about night stands?”
The lack of technology also showed up in the Purpose song. In the New York show, Princeton sings the song next to boxes his parents have sent him. At the chorus, the boxes reveal themselves to be puppets, who begin singing along with him. This was a real surprise when I saw the show in New York, a delightful surprise. In this instance, the boxes emerge from backstage. This is not a huge surprise, Cain Park probably does not have much in the way of trap door space, so they simply could not have done what they did in New York. But once again, it could have been a little confusing that these box puppets suddenly emerge from backstage to sing.
Those points aside, the performances were spectacular, and the audience really enjoyed the show. It took the audience a little while to begin to relax and simply laugh, but once they did, they were completely hooked. I was hooked from the very beginning, and was very impressed by how well the show transfered to Cain Park.