Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
In honor of the musical's 15th anniversary, a fan looks back at how the musical continues to impact her life
I was already in my mid-thirties when Avenue Q debuted Off-Broadway in 2003 at the Vineyard Theatre. Even though the fresh-out-of-college puppet protagonist Princeton (originally performed by John Tartaglia) was a generation younger than I, as soon as he emerged on stage in his cap and gown singing, "What do you do with a B.A. in English?," I knew this show was for me. A New York City-set, Sesame Street-inspired coming-of-age tale for grown-ups, Avenue Q was the funniest thing I had ever seen, so I was thrilled that the musical became such a big hit that it transferred to Broadway.
That first year I went to see it a lot. Songs like "The Internet Is for Porn," the alcohol-pushing Bad Idea Bears, the puppet sex -- I found it all hilarious. But with each subsequent viewing, I realized Princeton's search for his purpose is what kept bringing me back. Sometimes, as the rest of the audience screamed with laughter, I would be quietly wiping away tears. His journey struck a deep emotional chord in me. Although I was well into my tenure as a librarian, I knew that it was just a job, not my passion or my purpose. Like Princeton, I wondered if I would ever discover my calling. Would I get to a place where I felt truly content? Would I meet "the one?" I saw the show so frequently that I got to know some of the cast and creative team, and I shared my story with them. Jeff Marx, who cowrote the songs with Robert Lopez, even signed my poster with: "I hope you find your purpose soon."
I felt so connected to Princeton that, in the fall of 2005 when I adopted a cat, I named him after the character. "Oh, did you go to Princeton?" everyone inevitably asked. "Nope," I always responded. "You need to see Avenue Q!"
Once the original cast left, I didn't visit Avenue Q as often. And since the show moved from Broadway to New World Stages back in 2009, I've only been a few times. Yet I thought about the musical every single day for the 12 and a half years I was lucky enough to share my life with my cat, Princeton.
He passed away on June 5. The very next day, a special 15th anniversary Avenue Q original cast reunion concert was announced. Like Princeton finding a penny from the year he was born in the show and deeming it "a sign," that's what this felt like to me. I knew I had to be there to pay tribute to the best friend I had just lost.
The concert took place at 54 Below on July 30 and I was there. It was wonderful to see and hear the original cast again. The audience was even treated to a few songs that were cut from the show. But as much as I enjoyed myself, the evening was bittersweet. I thought about my Princeton whenever his namesake was on stage, and I reflected on how much has changed over the past 15 years for everyone -- except me. Lopez recently became the first-ever double EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner). Ann Harada, who originated the role of Christmas Eve, had a son who is now a teenager. In my own circle, friends have gotten married, started businesses, written books and changed careers. Politically, socially and technologically, the world has evolved in ways I can barely fathom.
Yet my own life has remained frustratingly stagnant. I recently turned 50, am still single and in the same job. While I've had a few "almosts," I haven't found my purpose. These days, I no longer actively look for it. I hold out hope that in a few years, when I retire and start the so-called second half of life, my purpose will finally reveal itself.
But I know I can't count on that. "Maybe you'll never find your purpose. Lots of people don't," Princeton's friends tell him at the end of the show. Whenever I listen to those lines on my Avenue Q original cast recording, I always feel a little less alone in my struggle.
What shows have inspired you to reflect on your own life? Tell us in the comments!
Ronni Krasnow works as a librarian. In her far more interesting life as theatre nerd, she runs the Ahrens & Flaherty Facebook page, serves on the reading committee for the New York Musical Festival, and creates theatre-related collage art.
Top image: Krasnow with original Avenue Q cast member John Tartaglia, his Princeton puppet and a picture of her late cat. Photo courtesy of the author..