I have no idea why I'm writing so much about mainstream commercial theater these days, but tonight I read something that really disturbed me: "The only place audiences will be able to see "Avenue Q" will be New York or Las Vegas, according to the producer."
That's just a damn shame. With a Tony win and good press, Avenue Q was set-up to have a fairly successful national tour which would enable people around the country to see one of the best shows to come out of New York in years. Better than Rent (and definitely far less self-righteous), better than Hairspray, better than The Full Monty, and even (in my mind) better than the very-entertaining-but-still-so-much-hype The Producers.
Now, audiences ability to see this show will be limited due to an apparently exclusive arrangement with Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas entrepreneur who used to own the Mirage and other casinos. I'm sure Wynn threw a ton of money at the producers, and apparently his offer "was too good to refuse," but there are plenty of people around the country who I'm sure would love to see a smart, funny, cleverly written show unlike anything they've seen before -- I don't know, say ... Avenue Q? -- without traveling to Las Vegas. Now, at least in the short term for at least the next year or two, they won't be able to. And really, beyond that a national tour won't make much sense because the notoriety received from the Tonys will be gone and there will be several new (albeit probably not better) new Broadway hits arriving in between.
And although I know Las Vegas is still in the process of continuously trying to reinvent itself, Avenue Q is the antithesis of a Las Vegas show. Instead of big and flashy, it's small and fairly low-tech. That's part of it's charm. No big special effects or stagecraft; just a fun story, catchy songs, a great premise and hysterical performances. The shows people go to in Vegas are either big stars you can't see anywhere else or extravagant spectaculars filled with wonder and magic -- Cirque de Soleil, Lance Burton the magician, Siegfried & Roy ... for a while at least. What musicals fit in Las Vegas? Andrew Lloyd Weber's rollerskating crapfest Starlight Express, which played the Las Vegas Hilton for years, was a perfect Vegas show. Cheesy rock-synth music and a bunch of people pretending their trains by rollerskating around while wearing christmas lights on their costumes. YES. That's the idea. So is something like We Will Rock You -- the musical based on songs by Queen that has been a big hit in London and will be opening at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas this September, before any possible stints on Broadway or elsewhere. But Avenue Q, while I'm sure it will do well, is a very different kind of show. Still more importantly is the simple fact that a large segment of the population will be unable to see it.
The Tonys and their measly ratings are usually nothing more than a marketing ploy for Broadway Theater. That is why so many people expected a huge commercial hit, with pending national tour, like Wicked to win. Because Tony voters often want to help the show that has the best chance of making the most money. But most people (myself included) were ecstatic with the upset win by Avenue Q.
Avenue Q isn't an easy show to produce, though. I doubt you'll be seeing it in your local high school anytime soon. It's not appropriate for that age group, but also it requires a degree of puppeteering skill, something that limits its potential casting pool. Half the cast requires the ability to perform a very different skill-set than most theatrical musicals. It's also not a show that would work without the use of the puppets since part of what makes it's utterly un-PC script and score work is the fact that one can't help laugh at hearing something that might otherwise be deemed utterly offensive by some come out of the mouth of a puppet.
You may have noticed I'm a big proponent of this show (I know I've been subtle about it, but I'm sure you're all observant enough to pick-up my hints), but I'm also very realistic about its future prospects. This is one of those shows that would have a very difficult time being adapted into a film -- I don't like to say anything is impossible, but without an amazingly creative vision on how to change it without losing what makes it great, it could be a horrible failure taken outside of a theater, especially since one of the big second act songs is a direct play to the audience. It's a show that for all it's relatively simple sets and production elements (by today's Broadway standards) still involves more than just acting, singing and dancing. It's a show that is creative, interesting and fun enough that everyone should see it (at least everyone over the age of 18 or so). But now it looks like most people won't be able to.
Thank goodness I live in New York. I'm sorry for the rest of you.