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Welcome to the World of Avenue Q

Filichia describes what's propelled him to The Third Stage of Cast Album Nirvana. logo
The new cast album of Avenue Q is saving me time each morning. For usually, after I get up, I lose five minutes looking over my cast album collection as I wonder, "To what do I want to listen while I'm getting ready?" Some days, it's 10 minutes before I land on exactly what I want to hear. And even then, I might put a disc in the tray, slide it in, and then immediately slide it out as I realize it isn't quite what I want. Then comes another five-minute search.

But these days, there's no choice. The music begins the moment I get up, for Avenue Q -- that oh-so-hellishly-clever parody of Sesame Street -- is already in the CD tray from the night before. I put it on loud while I shower; then, after I get out, I decide that I like it at that high volume while I shave. I'm lucky I don't cut myself because I seem to be shaving at a much more rapid clip -- in time to the music.

Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's music is mostly upbeat and catchy ("Everyone's a Little Bit Racist"), though it can be tender when that's called for ("Fantasies Come True"). The guys have come up with everything from a fast, funky waltz ("My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada") to upbeat rock ("Purpose") to soul ("You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want," which Natalie Venetia Belcon growls perfectly). But there's also a fine, fine melody line in "There's a Fine, Fine Line." Lopez and Marx's lyrics are often monosyllabically simple, but they should be for a kid's show spoof. Nevertheless, these co-lyricists can be wildly funny, as is shown by a reference to a Hoover vacuum cleaner that I doubt is an example of product placement by that company. Maybe Lopez, Marx, and their bookwriter Jeff Whitty think that everyone in the world has "Schadenfreude" but I am certainly glad and grateful that these guys have so wildly succeeded. Talent-wise, are they the real turtle soup or merely the mock? To quote their own creation, Lucy The Slut, "Yeah -- they're real."

By the time I reach "Mix Tape" -- a masterstroke of a song in which one puppet (Kate Monster) infers that another (Princeton) likes her from the songs he's selected and put on a tape for her -- I realize that I do not want a mix tape of songs from different shows. I just want the cast album of Avenue Q.

When I get to the newspaper where I work, I walk around whistling the songs. Now, this is a big problem, for there's an old superstition that whistling in a newsroom is bad luck. Many of the employees glower at me whenever I forget and whistle a tune. Usually I do so very softly but, with the delicious Avenue Q songs, I can't help whistling at full force. Some fellow employees are nice about it. Valerie, our Home and Garden writer, pleasantly asks me, "What's that you're whistling?" as if she'd like to know the tune, too. I realize it's "It Sucks to be Me," but I don't quite want to say that. The same melody is used at the end of the show as "For Now," so that's the title I give Valerie, who nods and goes back to work. Wish she'd ask a few more questions so she could have a garden of aural delights in her own home.

Princeton, John Tartaglia, Kate Monster, and Stephanie D'Abruzzo
in Avenue Q
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Other co-workers aren't as indulgent. That's partly because working at a newspaper is like being back in high school: The reporters have an air of intellectual superiority, the sportswriters feel they're the stars...and me? I'm just the Drama Club. Few of those people ever deign to talk to me -- unless, of course, they need seats to a smash Broadway musical. Today, they don't, so they scowl as I whistle "I Wish I Could Go Back to College." I wish they'd ask me to get them seats to Avenue Q; then they'd understand and would probably start whistling themselves.

I start to return phone calls. A theater promoter tells me that she's presenting a bunraku puppet show and I think of Avenue Q, which eschews the time-honored bunraku policy of masking the puppeteers and just lets us look at the delightful John Tartaglia, the charming Stephanie D'Abruuzzo, the enjoyably cantankerous Rick Lyon, and the hilarious Jennifer Barnhart whenever we want. I then talk to Ira Levin of Deathtrap, Rosemary's Baby, and Stepford Wives fame, and he tells me that Footsteps, his previously unproduced play, has been adapted for television -- "and it stars Candice Bergen," he says, "even though I wrote it for someone who's 32." Suddenly, I'm thinking about the wonderfully harried Jordan Gelber, who plays Avenue Q's lovable loser Brian; he's that precise age and feeling unsettled. I then call Robert Clary because he was in Seventh Heaven, and its 1955 cast album has just been re-released by Decca Broadway. While I try to concentrate on Clary telling me about how he sang, "C'est la vie," I'm thinking of guess what? C'est la vie.

After work, things aren't much different. While I usually eat out, I'd prefer to return home and listen to Avenue Q. But I've promised a buddy that we'd get together for dinner, so we do. As he tells me that his Chinese tenant is dating a Japanese guy and their families aren't so happy about it, my mind goes to the delectable Ann Harada singing, "Tried to work in Korean deli, but I am Japanese." Afterwards, I'm off to the theater to see Little Shop of Horrors, which I don't like as much as I did way back when. Or is it that I'm too hooked on another show that uses puppetry?

The moment I get home, I turn on the CD player -- not the radio or TV to see how the Yankees and Red Sox are doing -- and play Avenue Q again. I realize that I've now reached The Third Stage of Cast Album Nirvana. The first, of course, is when you hear an album and you like it. The second is when you've been listening so long that when you hear a vamp of a song, recognize it, and smile, "Ah, yes, this one!" But the third stage -- which represents the ultimate success for any album -- is that, as soon as one song ends, you're hearing the beginning of the next song before it starts. How well do I now know this disc? Go ahead, quiz me. What's Track 19? "Special." 18? "The Money Song." Pick a number between 1 and 21, and I'll give you the number's name.

Time for bed. I realize that the five minutes I gain in the morning are lost to the extra time I spend staying up late listening to Avenue Q. I do eventually get to sleep, but when I awake from a dream (in which my two of my aunts are going to a community theater production of Take Me Along), I can't drift off again because I'm hearing "The Internet Is for Porn" in my head. This brings up an issue of which much has been made: Some of the language in the show is salty. How odd to see a parental advisory label on the front of an original cast album's jewel box. But I must point out that compared to South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Avenue Q is a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

It was the music of something beginning,
but for Filichia, it's Avenue Q for now.
The next day, I'm off from work. I could stay in all day and listen to Avenue Q but, as one its wonderful songs tells me, "There is Life Outside Your Apartment." So I go to see a matinee of Recent Tragic Events at Playwrights Horizons (it wasn't for me), and when Heather Graham's next-door neighbor tells her blind date, "That's some cosmic shit," my brain starts singing to me, "There is cool shit to do but it can't come to you," a lyric from -- oh, never mind.

I feel as if I'm never going to take this disc out of the CD player. But, as Avenue Q teaches me, "Everything in life is only for now." I know it won't be there now and forever for I've had this obsessive cast album experience before with Funny Girl in the '60s, A Chorus Line in the '70s, Les Misérables in the '80s, and the first Ragtime album in the '90s. But notice that it usually happens only about once a decade. So, while I can certainly say that Avenue Q is the Original Cast Album of the Year, it may also be the Original Cast Album of the Decade. At this point, I won't quite say it's the Original Cast Album of the Century for, to paraphrase my favorite album of the '90s, there are 96 years to go. But, to paraphrase an Avenue Q song, give 'em your money. Get this disc at all costs.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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