Avenue Q, the Triple Crown (Best Book, Best Music & Best Musical) Tony Award-winning musical will be celebrating its 15 year anniversary this month. The show, despite its raunchy and comedic nature, actually has a lot more to offer than puppet nudity. Avenue Q has taught me numerous lessons about the world, adulthood, and even myself. Given its milestone anniversary, I thought now would be as good a time as any to reflect on the impact this musical had on my life.
1. “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?”
This song sets the tone for the entire musical. With it, we are introduced to our protagonist, Princeton. He has just graduated college and despite not having any real-world skills, is determined to make the best of adulthood. This song is such an important one for young adults to hear because it is often viewed that once you have a college degree, everything in life is smooth sailing. This song smacks that assumption in the face, while also keeping hope alive, which is something we all need now and then.
2. “It Sucks to be Me”
It is very apparent that society has become more and more glass half empty in recent years. I try my best to keep my head held high, but sometimes I don’t want to look on the bright side. Sometimes I just want to say “FUCK IT”, and, well, talk about how much life sucks. However, I’ve found that misery enjoys company, and sometimes you find your best friends in that company. This song has helped me through many a pessimistic spiral, and as awful as it may sound, sometimes it does suck to be me. But I’ve learned that’s okay.
3. “If You Were Gay”
I remember when I first heard this song. I identified with Nicky, just wanting to be the supportive straight friend. As I grew older, I found myself needing to hear the lyrics coming from Nicky more that needing to say them. I also started to identify more with Rod and his defensiveness on the subject. I didn’t realize until a few years ago why that was. As proud as I am now of being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, it was not an easy road to acceptance. When I listen to this song now, it is a fond reminder of how far I-and Rod- have come.
It’s that little flame that lights a fire under your ass. I cannot begin to express what this song in particular has meant to me since I became a fan of this show. Purpose is one of those songs that I listen to all of the time. Whenever I am feeling unmotivated or existential, this song reminds me that I-you guessed it-do have a purpose. For Princeton, this song hands him a blessing and a curse. In the beginning of the show, during this song, he is so excited to get his life started and he’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. As the show progresses, he loses sight of finding his purpose, because adulthood keeps finding a way to muddy his focus. In the end though, he realizes, as I still am, that your purpose in life isn’t linear, and it’s okay to constantly question what you were put on this planet for.
5. “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”
For a show that is often deemed as light-hearted fun, Avenue Q has the ability to cut deep without the audience realizing it. “If we all can just admit that we are racists a little bit and everyone stopped being so PC maybe we could live in harmony”. The way this song takes what is wrong with society and flips it into almost an anthem, for peace is unbelievably clever and always leaves me feeling hopeful, now more than ever.
6. “The Internet is For Porn”
I seriously debated whether or not to discuss the lessons I learned from this song, but as I overthought, it dawned on me that the reason I wouldn’t want to talk about it is the exact reason I should. The wide-eyed horror that Kate Monster feels when she learns what her neighbors used the internet for is very much how I felt just hearing the word “sex.” I was a sheltered kid and because of that I was a really late bloomer in most aspects of my life. My naiveté was part of me so I related to Kate’s dismissive attitude. But as years passed, that naiveté was replaced with curiosity and maturity. I personally feel like Kate only thinks porn is gross because she thinks women are supposed to feel that way. I’m not sure why society has this weird “women shouldn’t talk about sex” mentality, but it is alive and well. This wasn’t necessarily a lesson I learned from the musical directly, but Avenue Q definitely drew my attention to the issue.
7. “Mix Tape”
I remember having the biggest crush on this one kid in high school. I was so scared to tell him how I felt because I knew I would be devastated of he rejected me. So instead of telling him, I sent him songs that were obviously my way of telling him without telling him. That seemed to work until he started sending songs to me too. I was so sure that he felt the same way, and watching Kate and Princeton interact in this number gave me so much hope that I ended up telling him anyway. And I was right, it was devastating when he didn’t feel the same way. But I got over it, and we’re still great friends. And yes, we still send songs to each other. This song gave me the courage to put myself out there for the first time and I’m still immensely grateful for that.
This moment in the show takes the issue of women feeling ashamed to talk about sex I discussed earlier and throws it in the garbage. Lucy does not care about what the men in the bar think of her and she sure is not shying away from expressing her sexuality. On the surface, sure ‘Special’ is a sexy, Vegas-esque seduction song. But to me, and ideally every other person who’s ever sung this song in the shower, it’s a number that promotes sexual freedom. I’m very aware of the fact that the lyrics are about how Lucy can make someone feel special, not that she has any obligation to.
9. “Fantasies Come True”
Rod’s storyline in this song made me cry because I’ve been in the position he finds himself in. We’ve all experienced that friendship where one friend had a crush on the other but it wasn’t reciprocated. It sucks when everything you thought was real was all in your head, even if it’s just a dream. This song helped me navigate those friendships no matter which part I needed to hear: Kate and Princeton’s hope-inducing conversation, or the fantasy-shattering “you’re dreaming is all” line Nicky mutters at the end of the song.
10. “There’s A Fine, Fine Line”/“The More You Ruv Someone”
I bundled these two songs together because I learned the same lesson from both of them. I’ve only ever been in love once. It was chaotic and messy and I felt like I didn’t have control of any of my emotions. It was awful. But as much as I like to convince myself otherwise, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. There really is a fine (fine) line between love and a waste of time, but the risk you’ll take crossing it is so worth it, even if it doesn’t work out. “The more you love someone the more you want to kill them” is a perfect way to describe love universally. My sister gets under every part of my skin, but I love her with everything in me. Both of these songs help me better understand how love works, and I’m a better woman because of it.
11. “There is Life Outside Your Apartment”
The title of this song really says it all. This number really hit me when I saw it for the first time, because I hadn’t really been doing anything with my life. Sure, I had school and a part-time job but I wasn’t living, y’know? I have spent several times in my life as depressed as Princeton is in this moment in the show and it can be so difficult to find the strength within myself to go outside and make the effort. But luckily for Princeton, and for me, we are both surrounded by people who genuinely care about us and are willing to drag us out of our apartments.
I’d like to think I’m a decent person. I always try to see the good in people, I pay my taxes on time, and I recycle. But I’ve still fallen prey to schadenfreude. And I’ve learned that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. It actually feels kind of good to know I’m not the only jerk who has felt a twinge of happiness when the girl who used to bully me in middle school got arrested. Or, y’know, whatever your version of that situation is.
13. “I Wish I Could Go Back To College”
Okay, so there’s a lesson here, but I haven’t quite learned it yet. In this pivotal point in the show, the characters are all wondering what it would be like to go back to their days of almost-adulthood, only to realize as nice as it sounds, it wouldn’t do them any good. I tend to over analyze everything, but mostly my past. “What if I had done things differently?” is a question that plagues me on more than a few occasions. I need to realize that no matter how many times I ask that question, I’ll never get an answer, nor will it matter, because I didn’t do things differently. I did things the way they happened and I just need to move forward. That lesson is a work in progress, but I’ll get there.
14. “The Money Song”
This song didn’t really teach me a life lesson, per say, but it did introduce me to my first interactive theatrical experience. Up until the first time I saw Avenue Q, I had seen actors sing and dance on stage. Then in the middle of this number, the actors were jumping off the stage and into the audience! It was like a 3-D movie but 1000 times better. That moment was a game changer in my life because it deepened my love of theatre. I had no idea just how immersive theatre could be until Avenue Q. (Okay, okay, if you want a life lesson out of this one too, I have one up my sleeve: “when you help others, you can’t help helping yourself.” Not so much up my sleeve as it’s directly from the song, but the lesson is still valid!)
15. “For Now”
This song is one of my favorites in all of musical theatre history (obvious bias aside). I think this finale perfectly encompasses the message this show is trying to send in the span of three minutes. Although the lesson to be learned from this number, and Avenue Q as a whole, is simple, it is by far the most important lesson of all. “Everything in life is only for now.” I take that lesson and keep it in my back pocket for rainy days and it never fails to wash a feeling of relief over me. Because it’s true, everything in life really is only for now...except for death and paying taxes, of course.
(Photo by John Daughtry.)