Avenue Q

The Playhouse Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane

“I can make you feel special when it sucks to be you.”

Princeton leaves college with a useless degree and struggles with life in the real world, luckily the neighbours in Avenue Q befriend him as they all have similar problems.

Brilliant in its simplicity, Avenue Q takes the format from children’s shows like Sesame Street and uses it to teach twenty something’s important life lessons, like how to come out of the closet or tell if a guy likes you. For a generation who learned their ABC’s from puppets, the parody is particularly fitting and piques the interest of people who don’t usually attend musical theatre. You’ll have heard me complain about shows that are made specifically to bring in non-musical fans (such as Fame) but that’s only because they tend to favour flashy exploits over content. Avenue Q doesn’t rely on the audience’s love of puppets for its humour or heart, the characters are hilarious and touching in all the right places.

As someone who is still trying to figure out what to do with my B.A, the show’s opening is very relatable. Princeton is fresh from college, looking for a purpose in life and trying to scrape by on little funds while still having fun with his friends. Who hasn’t been there? The songs are quite informative on how one should get by during this time in one’s life. We should all remember that doing things for others makes you feel better and when it sucks to be you, at least you’re not Gary Coleman. The only lesson I disagree on is ‘The Internet is for Porn.’ I know the internet is bursting with porn but there are other uses for it, a musical theatre website for example.

Older generations may find the humour incredibly crude but there was fair warning on advertisements that the show would contain full puppet nudity so if that’s not your thing: don’t see it. While people may have giggled the first couple of times a puppet swore, the humour never relies upon the fact that they are puppets being rude. When Kate monster says “normal people don’t just sit at home looking up porn on the internet.” there is a long pause and slow hand to face in disbelief before the reply, “you have no idea.” The actors know how to get laughs from theatre audiences and never fight for attention over the puppets.

Each production of Avenue Q has its own little changes to better suit the time and place. The 2003 Broadway version said not to get depressed because George Bush was “only for now” and this production promised the same of Tony Abbot, which I will hold them to. There are also little additions the actors threw in, ‘If You Were Gay’ the line “what does it matter to be what you do in bed with guys?” comes complete with crude hand gestures to specify what he may do in bed with guys.

Even though I am a big Wicked fan, it’s easy to see why this unique little show scooped up the main awards at The Tony’s that year. Even if musical theatre isn’t your thing, you’ll enjoy this show and as small scale productions are popping up across the globe so you have no excuses not to see it.

Idina Menzel in Concert

 Concert Hall, QPAC in Brisbane

“I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game”

Broadway and TV Veteran Idina Menzel sings some of her favourite songs for delighted fans.

I have said I’m not the biggest Idina fan. Nothing personal, she seems nice enough and she has talent but I just never felt there was anything special about her. I’ve seen enough Elphaba’s to know that the way she sings Wicked in The original Broadway Cast Recording can be bettered. Though she kept appearing in shows I loved, she never seemed to play characters I particularly liked. Yet, despite the above comments, I clearly felt that seeing Idina was worth $100 and a Saturday night that could have been spent sitting at home writing reviews of other musicals.

I have to admit it was time and money well spent (except for the $6 transaction fee. That’s always money wasted, swindling bastards).

Idina made the brilliant decision of being accompanied by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra who made every song sound beautiful. Even Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. For the sake of Glee fans, Indiana probably had to sing something she sung on the show (and you can imagine how tough it was to choose which awful song) but Poker Face? Probably because it gave her the opportunity to comment on how inappropriately it was used in the show as a duet between mother and daughter. Well Glee, that’s what you get for casting her as mother of a 27 year old actress and giving her crappy songs to sing. At last Idnia had the good graces to apologise to the orchestra for making them play such a song.

Idina’s other song choices were just what fans would have wanted. She sang a few contemporary songs, an original song, a couple of extra show tunes and songs from her most notable shows. Except Wild Party, she skipped over ‘Life of the Party’ for unknown reasons. Stand out performances including a mash-up of The Polices’ ‘Roxanne’ and Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’, a stunningly original rendition of ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’ and an exciting preview of something from her next show, If/Then (from the team behind Next to Normal!). Idina also paid a touching tribute to her late mentor Marvin Hamlisch by singing two beautiful songs from his brilliant A Chorus Line. These songs really proved to me that Idina could put emotional force in her voice, which I had begun to doubt as the first couple of songs (though sung perfectly) were lacking in emotion. Unfortunately ‘The Wizard and I’ was her first full song. Even though she riffed and belted so that it sounded better than the recorded version, there was no acting on her face. Luckily she’d warmed up enough by the time she sang ‘Defying Gravity.’ Had she messed that one up: there would have been no mercy.

While I remained critical, the rest of the audience seemed to worship Idina’s every move. She would tell a little joke, make a cute comment or even say a swear and the audience would spend a whole minute applauding that small thing. I later found out that this audience would applaud just about anything. Of course Idina picked audience members to sing a duet with her and of course only one of them was a decent singer. Why do people volunteer for that? Yes I would love to sing with Idina Menzel but in an “I’m so talented I’ve sang with Idina Menzel!” way and not in an “I was randomly chosen” way. I would also not want to stand up and sing in front of hundreds of people who just heard someone as talented as Idina. Why don’t people have any shame? Those people will now never have shame because the audience was dumb enough to applaud them after each performance. Not just a polite applause, an actual applause.

That’s not even the worst part. There was a girl who put up her hand to sing, came down to the stage and then said that she didn’t know the words to that particular song — it was ‘Take Me of Leave Me’! What kind of Idina fan doesn’t know that song?. The girl then said she wanted to sing ‘I Dreamed a Dream.’ This girl told Idnia, in the middle of her concert, that Idina should sing another song specifically for the purpose of dueting with her. Idina was nice enough to only appear mildly stunned at this girl’s impudence, explaining that that song wasn’t part of the concert (the orchestra didn’t have the sheet music for it) and that they were in the middle of a different song right now. Idina then had to go back to the girl later to offer to duet an acapella version and you know what that girl did? She sat up on the stage and snatched the microphone right out of Idina’s hand. I still haven’t quite got over the sheer audacity of that girl. People had paid money to see Idina and you’re so desperate for attention that you would literally stop her concert to sing your choice of song? And to top it all off, she was (of course) not a good singer.

I’m going to blame Idina for her this, not only because she turned part of her concert into amateur karaoke night but because she doesn’t make herself intimidating enough. She wanders around the stage barefoot, chews a lolly as she tells a story, adjusts her ill-fitting dress, swears, chats with people in the front row and generally acts unprofessional. This whole “just being myself” attitude is exactly why the audience found you so damn approachable!