Avenue Q

Date posted on September 30, 2007
Ever since I heard about it winning the 2004 (?) Tony Award for best musical, I’ve looked forward to watching AVENUE Q. Two weeks ago, thanks to Atlantis Production, I finally got to see the play at the Carlos P. Romulo Theatre, RCBC Plaza Makati with my close friends Judy, Norman, Rey, Erica and Pinky.Initially, it was just the idea of seeing puppets dominate the stage with the puppeteers singing beside them that got me interested in the play. I thought that was a brilliant idea. It was only later that I realized that the whole production was in fact a musical parody of Sesame Street, a childhood staple for me and most of my friends (alongside Batibot!). Maybe that’s the reason why I was instantly curious about the production. After downloading some Avenue Q songs off Limewire, I was officially hooked.

Aside from the not-so-subtle allusions to Cookie Monster and Ernie and Bert, the songs are what I love most about it. I even Amazon-ed a copy of the CD. From the opening tune, “What Do You Do With A B.A. In English?” to others exploring the theme of looking for one’s purpose in life, it literally spoke to my generation. I remember back in college, when my batchmates and I had to fend off constant criticisms from media practitioners and fresh grads about our course not being as relevant as it was before. The song could’ve very well sung, “What do you do with a B.A. in Broad Comm?”

There were also the songs about unrequited love, political correctness, and reminiscence over college days. Among those I loved most are “Fantasies Come True” and “There’s A Fine, Fine Line.”

I guess you’ll never know ’til you reach the top
If it was worth the uphill climb
There’s a fine, fine line between love
And a waste of time

Sigh. Napapatingin nga ko ke Rey while the song was being performed as I knew he was going through something similar as Kate Monster was going through.

Oh, and “Mix Tape”! Especially since as a kid, I was in the habit of making mix tapes, albeit for my own personal pleasure. That quirk was carried on to college, although thanks to technology, I upgraded to ripping and burning CD tracks instead, making soundtracks to my out-of-town trips with friends. I fed on the satisfaction borne out of hearing a van-ful of friends bouncing or sighing “awww….” in chorus as we listened to and sung along songs that appealed to our generation, whether because they made us wax nostalgia or because they were current hits at the time.

Ahhh, those college days…

No surprise I also loved *loved* Avenue Q’s penultimate anthem “I Wish I Could Go Back To College.”

I wish I could go back to college
Life was so simple back then
What would I give
To go back and live
In a dorm with a meal plan ahead

I wish I could go back to college
In college, you know who you are
You sit in the quad and think, “Oh my god,
I am totally gonna go far”

How do I go back to college?
I don’t know who I am anymore
I wanna go back to my room
and find a message in dry-erase pen on the door

I wish I could just drop a class
Or get into a play
Or change my major
Or fuck my T.A.
I need an academic advisor to point the way!

We could be…
sitting in a computer lab
4A.M. before the final paper is due
Cursing the world cause I didn’t start sooner
And see the rest of the class there, too!…

I wish I had taken more pictures…

I swear, it’s like the words were written with my own pen. A blog entry unto itself can be written about this.

It wasn’t the first time I got fascinated by a musical that I haven’t seen. Like most kids my age at the time, I bought the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Miss Saigon. (Tape pa nga non e, later na lang nung mas matanda ako bumili ng CD). Even if it was about Vietnam, kahit I had to settle piecing the story together through the songs (unlike the CD sleeve, the tape didn’t have the plot synopsis), the fact a Filipina was playing Kim was enough. For a generation of kids, Lea Salonga instantly became the local artist to look up to. I no longer get surprised when I hear a song from that CD and see other Gen X-ers singing along with the same familiarity.

I remember back in college when news of Miss Saigon playing its final season in Broadway. I wanted so much to catch Lea in it that I even planned on going to New York to see it. Unfortunately, the day I applied for a visa was the same day the Visiting Forces Agreement was being deliberated on in the Senate. As in, while I was lined up to enter the US Embassy in Roxas Boulevard, there was a protest rally outside (this eventually became my inspiration for one of the scenes in YOU ARE THE ONE, starring Toni Gonzaga and Sam Milby). No wonder from almost 100 percent visa application approvals the day before, it dropped to 5 percent the following day. And I was among the casualty.

Of course, that turned out to be a blessing since the production was brought to Manila a few years after, with Lea playing Kim. I got to watch the show after all. Thrice! Once for free, and another time with my Mom, on Christmas Eve, with Lea and the rest of cast treating the audience to a special, surprise treat: A slew of Christmas carols sung by the cast and crew themselves! That was definitely one of my most memorable Christmases.

Then there’s Rent. I stumbled into this musical by accident. Back when the Tower Records store in Glorietta 3 was the biggest record store there was, I used to scour through its merchandise looking for CDs that were erstwhile unavailable to us Pinoys. While looking through the section that had the Original Broadway Cast recordings, I was drawn to the Rent CD. I bought it on a whim and instantly fell in love. At the time, it had been a few years since it won the Tony Award for best musical. Soon after, I heard about the plans to stage it here in Manila. My friend Hannah even encouraged me to audition for it, considering it had a very hip, almost R&B-inspired; libretto. I didn’t think I had the performing chops to boost the desire, so I settled for being an audience. I got to see it twice in the Music Museum. That was really something, what with some foreign audiences saying that our cast was even better than Broadway’s!

Back to Atlantis’s AVENUE Q. Truth be told, I was a bit disappointed. I don’t know if it was because I hyped it much too much in my head. On the positive side, I did love Rachel Alejandro (but then, I’ve always loved her). But even my friends who didn’t know much about her thought that her portrayal of Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut was impressive. I thought so too. Especially when she was doing Lucy, whose character called for the grunting, belting style of singing that was closer to Rachel’s professional singing style. Joel Trinidad, who played Trekkie, Nicky, and one half of the hilarious Bad Idea Bears tandem (one of the show’s few surprises, considering I knew most of what to expect from the production) was just… Wow. Galeng!

Frenchie Dy, playing Christmas Eve, was okay. Well, okay, she was quite good. Although there were times when she did drop her character’s Japanese accent, as in her solo number, “The More You Ruv Someone,” which was otherwise laudable if not for her tendency to sound like her normal self while hitting those high notes, instead of Christmas Eve with her idiosyncratic R-L speech defect.

Now, Rycharde Everly as Brian was a definite miscast. He didn’t have the comic timing required by his character. Sayang pa naman some of his punch lines, flying way overhead in a total miss, with nary a hit. Felix Rivera playing the lead character Princeton was… nothing spectacular. I thought he lacked the lovable, matinee idol dimension to the character, though he was great at playing Rod, Nicky’s gay Republican roommate. With Aiza Seguerra, I’m torn. I love her singing voice, so it’s hard for me to diss her as Gary Coleman. She has a great recording voice but the stage didn’t give it justice. She wasn’t able to fill the shoes of her character, either. She had much potential in the part, but she was awkward and unrealized. I was close to burying myself in embarrassment as she sang “Schadenfreude,” supposedly her character’s moment to shine, but sadly turned into a failure. It was like Aiza wanted the audience to know how Schadenfreude really felt – happiness in the misfortune of others.

As a member of the paying audience, I get to say all that. I just want to qualify my right to critique the play. Lalo na since some of friends know that I actually auditioned for the play.

This was a few months back, in June ata. My friends and I have been planning on it, but I didn’t realize when the audition was until the night before the actual day. As a result, I wasn’t able to prepare, emotionally and otherwise. The next day, I grabbed all the music sheets in my house and picked up Pinky and Norman, who both agreed to join me in my humiliation. I only decided on what to sing on the ride to Makati, after Pinky suggested “something from Rent.” I finally zeroed in on “I’ll Cover You.”

When I got there and saw the number of people lined up for the auditions, rehearsing and reviewing their pieces, I knew there and then that I had no chance. I just didn’t have the guts to do it. But I soldiered on. Only because I didn’t want to quit after setting out to do it, and because I wanted to chalk it up as one of those things I got to do before I died.

Pinky was the first to sing. She sang, “Where Is Love” from Oliver. We could hear her from the anteroom and she sounded perfect. At sa lagay na yon, she kept claiming she didn’t have enough sleep and that she sounded hoarse! I was already panicking at this stage. I started to realize singing a song which was a duet by two men whose voices were of different pitches was not the best idea. Oh, and I didn’t even have the song memorized. Jeez!

My turn was up. When I got inside the room, I was overwhelmed. Bobby Garcia, Chari Arespacochaga and another guy were the ones holding the auditions. I handed the sheet to the assistant, who in turn gave it to the pianist, and I stepped on the X mark. “This is Raz de la Torre.”

“What are you singing?”

“I’ll Cover You from Rent? I don’t have it memorized so I’ll be reading from this.”

The moment those words were out of my mouth, I knew I was headed for disaster. Tanga! Why did I have to call attention to that? I already knew that was a no-no, did I really have to make them more conscious of it?

Well, anyway, I proceeded to singing. My first note was off, and my voice was quivering. But I think I recovered naman. When the shift from the first male voice to the next came, I managed to hold the fort – the transition was fine. Now, at this point, as I was singing, I distinctly remember hating both Bobby and Chari. Throughout my song, Bobby had looked indifferent, but Chari… Chari looked mean and scathing, though both were actually silent the whole time. Except at one point when Chari whispered something to Bobby. Maybe that’s where my “scathing” remark comes from.

They allowed me to sing through two stanzas until the end of the first chorus, and I did it with considerable aplomb, something I didn’t expect to muster while auditioning, and after a nerve-wracking, confidence-shattering wait outside!

Bobby thanked me. And I stopped. And then, he said, “Nice voice. Very good.” And bowed to look at the next resume on his table. I turned around and walked away.

I didn’t even notice Norman’s audition anymore, as I was just thankful mine wasn’t as disastrous as I expected it to be. I never knew what a tall order it was to be an amateur performing in front of professionals. The only time I auditioned for a play was in college, and that wasn’t half as intimidating as the time I did for Avenue Q. So to get a compliment after wallowing in self-doubt and thoughts of “what am I thinking!?” ranked way up there, as if Chari herself had broken into a smile and said, “That’s it, Raz! You’re our Princeton!”

So all in all, and put in that context, I felt the Atlantis Production did an okay job. The material was great to begin with, so once they got the puppeteering nailed down, I guess they got it made. Besides, seeing and hearing those wonderful songs performed onstage was reward enough. Now, if only someone would risk (re)staging Les Miserables, Jekyll & Hide, The Civil War, Into The Woods, Monty Python’s Spamalot, Wicked, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Hairspray, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Drowsy Chaperone, and A Chorus Line.

Bobby, Chari?