The Korea Herald


‘Avenue Q’: A hilarious take on transition to adulthood

R-rated American puppet musical gets first run in Seoul

By Claire Lee

Published : Aug. 29, 2013 - 19:39

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One of the most highly anticipated musicals this year finally opened last week, filling the Charlotte Theater in Seoul with lines like “porn!” and “it sucks to be me!” ― received with a great deal of laughter and applause from the audience.

The R-rated American adult puppet musical, titled “Avenue Q,” is a hilarious, lighthearted coming-of-age tale highlighting the anxieties and struggles associated with entering adulthood. It premiered on Broadway in 2003 and picked up three Tony awards, including Best Musical, in the same year. 
A scene from “Avenue Q,” currently being staged at Charlotte Theater in Seoul. (Seol & Company) A scene from “Avenue Q,” currently being staged at Charlotte Theater in Seoul. (Seol & Company)

The current Seoul run is the first time the musical is being performed in Korea. It is organized by the prominent Seol & Company, the producer of “Wicked” and “The Phantom of the Opera” in the country.

The musical’s subject matter ― pornography, homosexuality and racism, which the audience may not be too comfortable with ― is delivered through Sesame Street-inspired puppets alongside human actors.

The result is a warm and joyous portrait of struggling young people, from an unemployed and broke 33-year-old to a hysterical closeted gay man who works as a Wall Street investment banker.

The show’s Seoul run is hugely complemented with its Korean subtitles ― the Korean translation of the vulgar terms are rather hilarious ― and a number of lines that mention names of popular local figures, including radio host Kim Gura, stand-up comedian Noh Hong-chul and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

One of the lines also satirizes Korea’s ex-President Chun Doo-hwan, who has been charged with tax evasion.

Many in their 20s and 30s would easily empathize with the characters, whose lives haven’t quite worked out the way they thought it might.

Their lives are in fact rather depressing. There is Brian, an aspiring comedian who recently got laid off from his job.

His fiance, Christmas Eve, is a Japanese immigrant and a therapist with two master’s degrees, but she hardly gets any clients. Princeton is a recent college graduate who is broke and unemployed, and Kate Monster is a hopeless romantic who has a hard time finding a boyfriend. Viewers are also introduced to Trekkie Monster, a “pervy” recluse who watches porn all day.

The characters all live in a poor neighborhood called Avenue Q, and try to escape the misery of their lives. The lyrics of the musical numbers ― “It Sucks to Be Me,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” ― are hilarious. At the same time, they manage to touch on the real issues that are experienced by the marginalized and the young people of today.

“It sucks to be broke and unemployed and turning 33, it sucks to be me,” says Brian in the show’s famous number “It Sucks to Be Me.” Kate Monster replies: “I like romantic things like music and art. And as you know I have a gigantic heart. So why don’t I have a boyfriend? It sucks to be me!”

The show’s ending almost feels like a fairytale: All of the major conflicts are solved rather too easily with a number of lucky coincidences. But this does not necessarily take away from the show, as it allows the audience to leave the venue without feeling too pessimistic about their own realities.

“Avenue Q,” currently being performed at Charlotte Theater in Jamsil, Seoul, runs until Oct. 6. Tickets range in price from 50,000 won to 130,000 won. For more information, call 1577-3363.

By Claire Lee (