Saturday, January 3, 2009

Patron Perception: "Child-LIKE" vs. "For Children" few years ago, I was involved in putting a production Disney's Beauty and the Beast onstage. It wasn't easy given our resources, but we eventually put an excellent show onstage.

I remember being surprised at something we had no control over, and that's the quality of the script. Like many people, I had assumed that it was aimed at kids, but the show, while perfect for families, was not what I'd describe as a kid show. It tackled a lot of adult concepts; bigotry and prejudice, civil rights, and the importance of integrity.

I saw it several times, and each time I enjoyed it a little more. It was hard to believe that this sophisticated script was attached to a Disney musical.

The problem is that even though it wasn't a "children's show," audiences thought that it was. The result: all the matinees were sold out and packed with kids, and the evening shows were sparsely populated. People didn't think they should come unless they brought kids, and no one considered it as a possibility as something you'd see for a night out as grown-ups. It certainly didn't help the theatre any; we had banked on it being a money-maker, and we barely averaged more than 50% over the run. And that's a shame, because it was a show full of smart dialogue and beautiful songs.

I bring this up because Christine Dolen's review of Avenue Q is titled "Looks like Child's Play - it's Not."
If Sesame Street is G-rated (or maybe PG during its edgier moments), Avenue Q would be R-rated, if theater had ratings. Older teen offspring of not-too-conservative parents can deal with (and laugh at) the show's puppet sex, raunchy language and songs with titles like It Sucks To Be Me or The Internet Is for Porn.
We look at the promo shots, and we see the muppets puppets and we think "AH! It's Sesame Street!" And of course, that's not an accident: the inherent suggestion is that when you grow up, you leave Sesame Street and go around the corner to Avenue Q.

"Grown up" is the operative phrase here. This isn't Sesame Street. These puppets are not muppets. They are our age. They've graduated high school, gone to college, and gotten jobs. They experimented with drugs and explored their sexuality. They download internet porn.

The Gorch Inhabitants: (Left to Right) Scred, The Mighty Favog, Peuta, Wisss, Vazh and King Ploobis.
Most people have forgotten, but Jim Henson has explored more adult themes with his creations, too. In the early days of Saturday Night Live, he contributed a series of sketches to the show entitled The Land of Gorch. I remember one raunchy sketch where the puppets were all trying to get laid, and the punchline was a reference to The Joy Of Sex. Even then, I was surprised that it made it to broadcast TV. This wasn't Kermit's territory at all.

We forget that the Muppet Show, while fun for the whole family, wasn't run on Saturday mornings; it was a prime-time series, family-friendly but intended for an older demographic than Sesame street.

Avenue Q is a step more mature. It's aimed at adults. Adults who are in touch with their inner child, but adults nonetheless.

So take Christine Dolen's advice:
...leave the younger kids at home. Just go and enjoy a masterful, funny, touching musical about young adults trying to piece together the puzzle of post-collegiate life.
You still have a week to catch it at the Broward Center; and don't forget the ticket lottery!

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