No strings attached

Avenue Qmmunity characters and puppets use fiction to highlight real issues

The cast of ‘Avenue Q’ with Tim Kornblum at far left.
Photo Credit: © John Daughtry 2009

As bright-eyed young people, we all had questions about life, love and how the world works. So, we turned to the influences we trust most in life — our parents, our friends and, perhaps, most memorably, our TV programs. But, what happens when we cross over that inevitable border into adulthood? Who is there to answer the difficult questions we encounter them then? Often, just as the most pressing questions of adulthood emerge, the advising panel disappears. Well, lucky for us, our answer may have just pulled into town.

This April, one of the most beloved recent musicals is hitting the Queen City theater scene. “Avenue Q,” a quirky two-part musical, creates a fun adult mimicry of “Sesame Street”-like childhood programs by combining youthful style with mature issues. Satirizing the supposedly false promises of uniqueness, possibility and success ensured by childhood television shows, “Avenue Q”’s characters — both person and puppet — playfully and comically comment on the harsh reality that many adults arrive upon with blunt reception — that they are not so special and that, in fact, sometimes “it sucks to be me.”

The creation of this theatrical gem was a group collaboration. Musicians and lyricists Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx dreamed up the production almost a decade ago, originally envisioning it as a television series. However, in 2002 the show was developed into a stage production directed by Jason Moore and a year later the performance went live as an Off-Broadway production. Only three short months later, the production had become a sensation, rocketing the musical to Broadway and meriting substantial praise and a whopping four extensions.

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And, the accolades go on. “Avenue Q” went on to score three Tony Awards —including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book — and win the 2003 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding New Musical. The musical was also recognized with a nomination for the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical award. ”Avenue Q” played its final Broadway performance on Sept. 13, 2009, but the fat lady is far from belting out that final note. The success spawned national tours, international productions and static performances in Las Vegas and London’s West End. And, now, all the crazy excitement of “Avenue Q” is coming to Knight Theatre in Charlotte!

So what’s all the fuss about? To those of you who may be new to “the ‘Avenue Q’ neighborhood,” here’s the gist: Princeton (played by David Colston Corris), a naive and wide-eyed dreamer fresh out of college ventures to New York City with nothing to his name but hope and ambition. Lacking any sort of financial assets, Princeton commits to a cheap neighborhood in the city where the rent is low and the neighbors are nice — Avenue Q. In forging new relationships with one another, Princeton and his neighbors learn what it means to take on the tough questions in life hand-in-hand.

Cast members Kerri Brackin (Nicky) and Brent Michael DiRoma (Rod)
Photo Credit: © John Daughtry 2009

A deeper connection

“Avenue Q”’s very own Tim Kornblum, who plays the role of Brian in the musical, took a few minutes to share with qnotes what this experience has meant to him. Originally from Union, N.J., Kornblum stumbled upon his love for acting in theater classes and productions put on by his high school.

In college, his talents were sidelined. Kornblum focused on his athletic skill, playing sports throughout his university career and studying toward a degree in psychology. But, before graduation, he struck up a deal with his parents about an upcoming acting opportunity.

“If I got the job then I didn’t have to go back to school…and luckily enough for me, I got the job,” he says. Since then, Kornblum has taken on some fantastic roles in other productions — Max Prince in Neil Simon’s “Laughter,” Lenny Ganz in Neil Simon’s “Rumors” and Thenardier in “Les Miserables.” But, Kornblum shares an especially strong connection with the plot in “Avenue Q.” “Well it’s essentially a show where puppets and humans and all different kinds of characters live together in comedy…but, they are adult scenes….everything to homosexuality, struggle to find purpose in life, to racism,” he relates. “Any problem that you encounter in growing up, it deals with.”

“Avenue Q” plays on the lesson-giving nature of most childhood TV shows and tackles the difficult, sometimes racy task of addressing their adult audiences with advice on real issues. Some of the songs include: “If You Were Gay,” “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet Is For Porn” and “It Sucks To Be Me”.

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Kornblum is a self-proclaimed “struggling comedian” and says he relates identically with his character role of Brian. Yet, his emotional connection with the stories in “Avenue Q” dives even deeper.

“I saw the show for the first time in 2006 and I fell in love with it immediately,” he says, relating his own coming out journey and the inspiration he says he received from the musical’s closeted, gay character. Watching the character navigate the difficult journey of self-acceptance gave Kornblum the surge of courage he needed to come out to his friends and family.

Kornblum places significance in performance art and he thinks the same inspiration that gave him courage to came out can have an affect on others and the greater LGBT community.

“I think that to do theater, to act, specifically in theater, you really have to have so many deep seated emotions that most people don’t have to tap into in everyday life,” Kornblum says. “And, I think particularly for a gay actor or audience member, it helps you to accept yourself…in whatever situation but especially in the gay community but being able…to get comfortable in your own skin. That’s why there is such an LGBT following.”

Kornblum’s trip to Charlotte will be his first, but it seems the Queen City’s reputation proceeds itself. “I’m really excited to finally get a chance to visit there…it will be nice to be there for a week and see what all the hubbub is about,” he says.

The show will take the stage at Blumenthal’s Knight Theatre April 5-10. Tickets range from $20-$85 and can be purchased at blumenthalarts.org. If you are considering bringing your family, be sure to check out “Avenue Q”’s maturity warning at avenueq.com/about.html. Performances in Durham will also be staged April 19-20; visit dpacnc.com for more information. : :

 

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Posted by Leah Cagle

Leah Cagle is QNotes' former associate editor for arts and entertainment. You can reach editor Matt Comer via arts@goqnotes.com or editor@goqnotes.com.