If you were one of the Angelenos at home in front of the television on Sunday night-and not watching the Laker game-perhaps you were one of the brave few who tuned in for the annual Tony Awards broadcast.
If you were-and you managed to sit through Hugh Jackman-s song-and-dance routines, Jefferson Mays elegant, modest speech, and Carol Channing's hip-hop duet with LL Cool J-then you know that Avenue Q-s victory over Wicked that night was probably an even bigger upset than Detroit beating Shaq & Kobe.
But what you may not know is when Avenue Q is coming here to Los Angeles. Winning the Tony for Best New Musical makes a touring show a near certainty. This summer, L.A. is hosting road shows of the past two Tony award winning musicals: 2002-s Thoroughly Modern Millie and 2003-s Hairspray. Therefore, theater fans here in L.A. who tuned into the Tony-s were probably feeling that it would only be a matter of time before Avenue Q could be seen here on Sunset Boulevard.
Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. In what may prove to be even more remarkable than their upset on Sunday, it appears as if the producers of Avenue Q have decided that their show will not tour-anywhere. Instead, they-ve signed an exclusive deal with Las Vegas gambling mogul Steve Wynn, who will mount a production of Avenue Q in a new Casino opening next year. For theatergoers in cities outside New York or Las Vegas, the producers seem to be saying: tough luck-or in Avenue Q-s neighborhood lingo: it sucks to be you.
While this is obviously a blow to fans of new musicals not planning a trip to the big apple or the city of sin, it-s not so clear what the bigger impact of this decision will be. In some ways it-s good for musical theater to have a high-profile, and high-quality show that will be seen by millions of people who may not normally think of Broadway when planning their evening-s entertainment. If any musical is going to win over new converts in their 20-s & 30-s, its Avenue Q.
But on the other hand, Avenue Q could have also served as a wonderful ambassador for musical theater. It-s catchy tunes, honest emotions, and of course, colorful puppets would certainly win over audiences all over the country. And it would also fill the coffers of local presenters, which might allow them to take a chance on a more offbeat or less successful show in the future.
Avenue Q won-t be the first musical to become a fixture in Vegas-Starlight Express played at the big Hilton for years, and Mamma Mia continues to be a hit at Mandalay Bay-but those shows toured extensively before winding up on the strip. What-s so notable about Avenue Q-s move to Nevada is that it-s going to Vegas before it goes to bona-fide theatrical cities like London, Chicago, or Los Angeles.
Does this mean then Vegas will soon be seeing world premieres of works by Steven Sondheim, Suzan-Lori Parks or Richard Greenberg? Unlikely, but it does mark a major step for Vegas in its slow march towards respectability. Granted Avenue Q-s raunchy sensibility-not to mention its advertised -Full Puppet Nudity--certainly will help it feel at home next to shows like Folies Berg-re and Cirque du Soleil's O. Who knows, perhaps if Avenue Q is a success, there may one day be scantily-clad stagings of Camelot at Excalibur?
But for musical theater fans here in Southern California, there are two consoling facts about L.A. losing Avenue Q to Las Vegas. One, plane tickets to Vegas are cheap. And two, the flight is only an hour long-which when you factor in freeway traffic and parking, means Avenue Q isn-t really that far away after all.
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW