It’s fitting that South Park creators collaborated with Robert Lopez to make The Book of Mormon. After all, Robert Lopez co-wrote the music and lyrics to Avenue Q, one of the raunchiest and funniest musicals of all-time (especially before The Book of Mormon hit the boards). Lopez’s partner-in-crime when it came to Avenue Q was Jeff Marx. Jeff Whitty wrote the book. The show premiered on Broadway in 2004 and captured Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score. Avenue Q ran for 2,534 performances. That’s good enough for 23rd on the list of the Great White Way’s all-time longest running shows.
You need to suspend your belief when you attend a Broadway show. You really need to suspend it when you have Avenue Q tickets. That’s because the cast contains three human characters and eleven puppet characters. The actors and puppeteers controlling the puppets (who look a lot like Muppets) are onstage and in plain view of the audience. Some handlers voice the puppets onstage while some puppets are voiced by actors standing offstage. The characters never acknowledge the puppeteers and the reason why humans and puppets exist together is never explained. The hilarious content of the musical makes it easy for the audience to relax and ignore the puppet handlers. That’s saying something since some of the puppets are quite complicated and some involve more than one operator.
Avenue Q, which features songs like “If You Were Gay,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” and “The Internet Is for Porn,” centers around Princeton, a recent college graduate who is trying to find his way in the world. The musical examines the idea that as kids we’re told how unique and special we are but as adults we learn that we’re really not that unique or very special. Think of Avenue Q as the pessimistic adult answer to the optimism of the juvenile Sesame Street. In fact, Avenue Q parodies both Burt and Ernie (Rod and Nicky) and The Cookie Monster (Trekkie Monster). The puppets were designed by Rick Lyon of Lyon Puppets—he was one of the original cast members. Some of them cost as much $10,000 and took over 100 hours to construct.