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Sunday, March 19, 2006


...Everyone's a little bit racist...the internet is for porn...I'm not wearing any underwear, I'm not screaming out for attention (ok, maybe just a little) these are song titles from that semi-politically incorrect, somewhat honest, hilarious 2004 Tony Award-winning musical romp otherwise known as, Avenue Q.

Has musical theater reached a new low or found a new way to present itself? Puppet sex, racism, closeted gay Republicans...except for the puppet sex part, it's not so far off from the truth, is it (and if puppet sex strikes your fancy, I for one don't want to hear about it). As the tagline for the show says, "Avenue Q...Just like your life only funnier."

Though Avenue Q is amusing, there are truths in the show which not only tickles the funny bone, but makes it relatable to it's audience. Essentially, the show highlights the newest conundrum facing young-adults -- a phenomena otherwise known as the "quarter life crisis." Trying to navigate life after college is a very legit concern and an issue that more and more young people seem to be up against.

When the audience is introduced to Princeton, Avenue Q's star, we meet a bright-eyed recent college graduate who comes to New York City with big dreams and the naivete of reality. He can't pay his bills (much less find an apartment) because he can't get a job and feels like his college degree is useless. Princeton winds up on Avenue Q (the only place he can afford) where he meets fellow puppets with various backgrounds and experiences who share similar struggles in life that are universal -- finding a meaningful job, love and purpose in life.

These days, it seems like more and more young people find themselves trying to identify who they are in that stage between college-student and working adult. As young people, we spend the first 22 years of our lives going to school with a purpose to get to that next stage -- getting good grades in order to pass to that next grade level, ultimately hoping to get into a good college in hopes of a job that will pay well and bring us "personal fulfillment." It doesn't seem like too tall of an order...until you have to actually do it. After college, many grads take 1 of 2 roads (professionally): returning to their parents' home, sitting around scratching their heads wondering, "now what" while taking a hiatus from life and essentially "mooching" off their family while others get what they think is their dream job, but wind up feeling as if their life is ticking away hating where they are feeling stuck, frustrated and overwhelmed. As Princeton lamented, "but somehow I can't shake/the feeling I might make/a difference to the human race" which too demonstrates the struggle that not only his character but others have experienced in trying to make their mark in their respective lives.

Young people face huge life-changing decisions in their struggle to find a sense of self, direction in life and finding that balance between personal and professional life. Avenue Q more than demonstrates this with the various relationships struggles particularly between Princeton and the shows other characters. In particular: when Kate responds with "a note of defiance" to the end of her relationship with Princeton, she considers, "There's a fine, fine line between together and not/And there's a fine, fine line between what you wanted and what you got./You gotta go after the things you want while you're still in your prime.../There's a fine, fine line between love/And a waste of time." Life changing events can trigger people to take stock of who they are and what they really want for themselves and often times, it comes back to the need of finding some kind of purpose and personal fulfillment.

The irony in this musical, is though it's a show about growing up and finding that ever-elusive purpose in life, Avenue Q is a show where the main characters are puppets reminiscent of a time in our lives when "purpose" was a thought a million miles away and Sesame Street was king.

Though Princeton feels like he'll never find his "purpose" he bemoans life's difficulties at the conclusion of the show and is reminded that nothing is permanent: "Only for now!/For now there's life!.../For now there's love!.../For now there's work!/For now there's happiness!.../For now discomfort!.../For now there's friendship!/Only for now!.../Don't stress,/Relax,/Let life roll off your back/Except for death and paying taxes,/Everything in life is only for now!"

Words to live by, wouldn't you say?

Who knew a musical about puppets going through life's crises, living on an adult-like Sesame Street in 2006 were so knowledgeable! Avenue Q is definitely not your grandparent's musical...that's for sure!

Catch Avenue Q:
On Broadway at the Golden Theatre Tuesdays-Sundays
In Las Vegas at the Wynn Hotel through May 28


Mitch Glaser said...

When I first heard of "Avenue Q," I thought it was a musical about Palmdale. Apparently I was wrong. Lame jokes aside...

I'm not sure that the "quarter life crisis" is a new phenomenon, nor that it's a conundrum. When I threw that term towards an older and wiser man, he responded that life is a series of crises, regardless of your age. While this might not be a comforting idea, there's a lot of truth to it. Life is a constant fight to "be," to achieve in the face of adversity.

I will concede, however, that the greatest of life's crises may be the one faced by younger people who are still idealistic and believe their lives can "mean something." A "quarter life," in the grand scheme of things, is just a beginning...and young people are eager to "start on the right foot." But that has been true for centuries, so I think our ancestors faced anxieties similar to the ones you and I face today.

What is different today is the way in which those experiencing the "quarter life crisis" were raised. Our parents, the Baby Boomers (and the generations that preceeded them) were instructed to conform to certain norms and to pursue a narrowly defined purpose in life. In a sense, we were raised without those boundaries, as our parents rejected the norms of previous generations and encouraged us to follow our own path. Living in the most powerful country in the world during its most prosperous and peaceful time, we saw no limits ourselves. But now that we're faced with so many options and so few constraints, we're overwhelmed with choices and unsure of what we should "be."

I think you describe the "quarter life crisis" accurately: finding a meaningful job, love and purpose in life. Frankly, I feel a lot of people give up the fight to find these things at some point in their lives, deciding that they must "settle," that they can't have it all. The resolution to the "quarter life crisis" for these people is the decision that they have to stop "becoming," which only leads to a sense of bitterness and disappointment.

Getting back to "Avenue Q," there's no doubt that it's tailored to our generation. We were raised to trust puppets and what they have to say. We came to appreciate a ribald humor that disregards "taboos" and speaks with an ironic honesty that previous generations would never appreciate. "Avenue Q" was made for us, and we must listen to what it has to say.

I haven't seen the show, but the lyrics you post tell me "Avenue Q" tells us two things: 1) We've got to make the most of our time on this planet and 2) Life is transitory. Perhaps we're giving ourselves too much importance, forgetting that our experiences in life aren't new and that we're part of things far bigger than we are. It makes our petty "quarter life crises" insignificant and challenges each of us to do something about it. If you want it, you have to make it happen. If you don't, history won't pity will forget you.

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