Hot off the heels of the West End and (Tony award-winning) Broadway hit Avenue Q, Moshe Kepten's Israeli version of the musical debuts at Beit Lessin this Tuesday. The brainchild of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Avenue Q follows the predictable fortunes of recent collage graduate Princeton and fellow disillusioned Generation Y'ers attempting to make ends meet in the impoverished fictional New York neighborhood of Avenue Q while awaiting bigger and better things. But Q's tale of college graduate meets real life comes with a twist: Much of its cast is comprised of Sesame Street-style puppets operated by onstage actors making for results "both refreshing and hilarious," in the words of Kepten who envisioned bringing the musical to Israel since seeing it on Broadway in 2003, when the show, still running on Boston, first came out.
"Obviously the use of puppets amounts to some downright bizarre scenes which are great sources of humor, among them a portrayal of intimacy between two marionettes," observes Kepten. "But the puppets also impart a message: the inherent satirical element within their depictions of archetypical twenty-something relationships and dilemmas, such as Princeton's attempt to grapple with the advantages of a casual fling versus those of a long-term partner, make for a lighthearted and detached perspective which implies that life's trials of this sort, or in general, are often turned into too serious a business."
Another advantage of the puppet medium, according to Kepten, is its capacity to push the envelope of acceptable stage material. He cites "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," as probably the production's "most outrageous number." "Performed by docile-looking puppets in their trademark, sugar-coated Sesame Street style, this politically incorrect humor doesn't offend," he claims. "The audience find themselves laughing despite themselves, and then of course on reflection the issue raised provides food for thought."
Associations with Sesame Street, for which Marx worked as a puppeteer, also feature in the form of the keen similarities some residents of Avenue Q bear to inhabitants of the legendary street. Best buddies and roommates, good-natured slacker Nicky and yet-to-come-out-of-the-closet, Republican investment banker Rod are "conceivable adult versions of Bert and Ernie," asserts Kepten, while Trekki Monster's addictive tendencies "bear resemblance to those of the gluttonous Cookie Monster," although Trekkie's weakness for Internet porn makes for a less innocent penchant.
Another character likely to strike many as familiar is that of the superintendent played by former children's television star Michal Yanai. Yanai, an actors whose early typecasting has impinged on her ability to carve a successful post-children's-TV career, plays herself, having supposedly resorted to building supervision after a failed attempt to make it in the US. Her character replaces that of former American child star Gary Coleman in the original production (Coleman rose to fame as the child star of 1980s sitcom Different Strokes but then experienced a sharp decline in his career). "Israelis wouldn't recognize Gary Coleman.... Casting Michal has the same implications here in Israel," explains Kepten of his choice.
The substitution aside, Kepten maintains that changes to the original production have been few and far between: "Avenue Q has universal appeal; its message and the wit with which it's delivered can be appreciated regardless of nationality or culture."
Tickets cost NIS 199. For more information, call Beit Lessin at (03) 725-5333.