Monday, May 10, 2004

Tony Awards!

Tony Award nominations came out today. I get the sinking feeling that Wicked and Boy from Oz will steal all of the musical categories away from Avenue Q. As amazing as Nikki Ferry tells me that Hugh Jackman is as Peter Allen in Boy from Oz, I would love to see super-cute, super-talented puppeteer John Tartaglia win out over him from his roles as Rod and Princeton in Avenue Q.

Granted, I haven't seen the green glitz of Stephen Schwartz's Wicked, nor have I seen the Hugh Jackman vehicle. I don't doubt the talent of Jackman. He hosted last year's Tony's and broke into "New York, New York" from On the Town, so I know he has an incredible voice. I do doubt Wicked. I like Schwartz--when he's writing Disney scores. I do not like Godspell. And I can only find one good song in Children of Eden. But I have to advocate Avenue Q simply because it is only of the boldest, most innovative shows I've seen in a long time.

The performers in Avenue Q are former Hensen puppeteers. They created the show around the concept that puppeteers should be recognized for the work that they do. Essentially, they're actors, too--not just people capable of doing some really amazing voice work. Sitting 4th row in the Golden Theatre on 41st Steet last August to witness the awesome skill of puppeteers like John Tartalia, fellow nominee Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Rick Lyon and Jennifer Bernhardt was amazing. Each puppeteer handled two puppets a peice--more if you're Bernhardt--and, because these actors are no longer hiding behind their puppets, but acting with them, it was amazing to see the way each performer morphed his or her body and facial expressions to suit the needs of the characters they had stuck on their hands. I'm also amazed when people can sing in voices other than their own. So even hearing John Tartaglia sing as the naive Princeton and then the "closeted homo-whatever" Rod (whose voice, I think, is produced in that little gap between the back of your nasal cavity and your throat) was equally impressive.

To dispell the fact that this is merely a puppet show, Avenue Q has three non-puppet characters, all of whom interact with the puppets a la Sesame Street. One of whom is Gary Coleman. Yes, that Gary Coleman--but played by a woman. But this is not a kids show. At all. It's sort of an adult spin on the educational Hensen creations we all grew up on. It deals with life after college, and begs the questions that are pertinent to our every day lives: what is our purpose? why doesn't college really perpare us for the real world? why is rent so damned high? why are people mean? why do we love? who defines political correctness? and so on. Each song on the show is a light hearted attempt to answer these questions. Princeton, fresh out of college, begins the shows action by singing,
"What do you do with a BA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college
and pleanty of knowledge
have earned me this useless degree.
I can pay the bills yet,
'cause I have no skills yet."
It also features such numbers as "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," "Shaudenfreude," "It Sucks to Be Me," and "If You Were Gay." The show is witty, hilarious and ultimately one of the happiest things I've ever seen. It is aware of its genre and uses it well (from little animated signboards on the side that can morph the word "purpose" in "propose" and help the audience spell "shaudenfreude" to the nature of the set and puppets themselves). It's amazing. Really. And I haven't laughed so hard at the theatre since Urinetown.

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