It’s been a busy two months for the Arts Club touring production of Avenue Q. Since last year’s acclaimed production the show has seen the inside of regional theatres all across BC, from Nanaimo to Kelowna, before heading back to take up residency in Vancouver once again, just in time for the holidays.
But for those that may be unfamiliar with this irreverent musical, it is definitely not the typical family-fare you’ll usually find this time of year, what with its combination of humans and puppets, the now infamously celebrated puppet-on-puppet sex scene, and musical numbers that include “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet Is for Porn”.
“I always say it’s Sesame Street for adults” says Jeremy Crittenden, who is the voice of Princeton and Rod in the show. “You’re not learning about spelling and numbers, you’re learning about porno and racism and love.”
“Exactly,” adds Andy Toth, who plays Brian, one of the human characters in the show. “I think as adults you need to know what your world is, and I think that that’s what happens to the puppets in the show. They come to terms with reality; the reality that the internet is for porn. It just plain is. I think it’s like 68% of internet traffic is porn related? You know, it’s massive. That’s the reality.”
And though the casual onlooker will be struck by the boundaries a show like Avenue Q pushes, it goes deeper than the sometimes controversial, but always very funny, themes it explores.
“There’s nothing in this show that’s meant to be overly crude,” says Crittenden. “There’s nothing in the show put there for shock value or to upset people. That’s not what the show’s about. It’s very honest. People say the f-word, people have super-hot sixty-nines in their bedroom with people they met in a bar that night. It happens every night. So just relax. Come, sit in the theatre, watch some puppets have some fun and chill. Just chill.”
For Crittenden though, what makes Avenue Q so much funnier than its wilder PG-13 moments is the honesty that comes from the characters and the situations they find themselves in.
“I think it’s this really neat mix of nostalgia and honesty” adds Crittenden “You get the nostalgia from the format that you recognize from growing up with Sesame Street. You immediately understand this world of puppet-humans living with real humans living with puppet-monsters in these lesson based vignettes. And then you add in the reality of your own life. So now there’s racism, you don’t have a job, your relationship totally sucks …”
“Your BA in English is absolutely useless,” laughs Toth.
“Yeah, I love knowing how many people have a BA in English when we say ‘what do you do with a BA in English’ and nine people in the audience lose their minds.” says Crittenden. “They know. They get that. They ask that question. They’re thoughts that we all have and universal truths about growing up and being a young adult right now. It’s reflected so amazingly well in Avenue Q. It’s just funnier when its puppets going through it and being miserable instead of you. You combine those together and it really turns into something special and unique.”
And while Toth agrees, he also talks about how this particular production really gets to the heart of the show beyond the gags. “It’s about the love,” he says.
But while audiences have proven they can relate to the show’s honesty and heart, those same feelings resonate with the performers on stage.
“One hundred percent of the things that Princeton goes through in the play are exactly what I go through in my life, every single day,” laughs Crittenden.
“I think a show like this gives somebody a lens into their own perspective in the third person” says Toth. “Anytime you can get a view of yourself outside yourself is A, a relief to you, and B, can give you some information that maybe you were missing. And that’s what I get from doing this show and watching it. Every now and then I’ll be watching it and, I’ll have a particular life issue that I’ve been rolling with, and I go ‘oh, oh yeah, maybe I should be looking at it like this’”.
“Maybe I should be doing what that puppet’s doing,” adds Crittenden.
“Yeah, more sixty nine,” laughs Toth.
Returning to Vancouver after its successful run in 2013, some may wonder whether it is worth seeing the show again, and while it may be the same set and performed by many of the same actors, both Crittenden and Toth agree that returning audiences will always find more to enjoy.
“Have you ever done a vertical wine tasting?” asks Toth. “It’s not nearly as dangerous as you might think. A vertical wine tasting is where you taste the same grape from the same winery over several years. So you’ll try a 2004, a 2005, a 2006, a 2007, and it’s worth doing because you start tasting the nuances in the grape itself. The show is the same. The nuts and bolts are all there from the last production, so anyone who loved the last production will love this one, but it’s worth seeing again because you get different nuances. You get to understand the shape of the show differently because it’s coming through the interpretation of new people.”
“And Selena (Wong) and I had just finished doing the show in Calgary, so we were able to bring some of the things with us that worked really well for us there,” adds Crittenden. “Everything has married so well with what made the show so successful last year in Vancouver. Andy is totally right. Come do some vertical theatre tasting.”
With only a few more shows on the road before the show returns, the duo has one big ask of their Vancouver audiences: “That bitch Mary Poppins up the street? We want to have better attendance than her. We deserve it!”
Avenue Q plays the Graville Island Stage (1585 Johnston St, Granville Island) November 20 – January 3. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.