About the author:
Robert Lopez's first two Broadway musicals, Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, became critical and commercial smash hits and Best Musical Tony Award winners. He shared Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Book as well as a Grammy Award for The Book of Mormon, and shared a Tony for Best Original Score and a Grammy nomination for Avenue Q. Audiences are still enamored with the puppet-centric Avenue Q, which is currently playing at off-Broadway's New World Stages and celebrates its 10th anniversary on July 31. This gut-busting and touching musical about off-the-wall characters trying to make sense of their lives on a fictional downtown New York street is still one of a kind. In an essay written especially for Broadway.com, Lopez—who is currently collaborating with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, on Disney's Frozen—muses about how his very first musical turned out a lot better than his 10th birthday party.
When I turned 10 I got what I wanted more than anything—my parents threw me a bowling birthday party. I invited my friends from around the neighborhood as well as some from my school and we all met at Bowlmor Lanes on University Place for what I thought would be the ultimate in fun. I'd never bowled before, but in my imagination, bowling was the most fun a kid like me could have. It also stood to reason I'd be naturally good at it, since I was so excited to try. I was also really looking forward to my school friends meeting my neighborhood friends. I imagined that would be like an explosion of fun in and of itself.
You see where all of this is heading. My school friends didn't mix well with my neighborhood friends, and I was left awkwardly in the middle between the two groups. The bowling balls were heavier than I expected, they kind of hurt my fingers, and I ended up bowling gutter balls most of the day. I was frustrated and disappointed that other kids were naturally better at it than me, and some were even kind of rubbing it in my face in a competitive way. And finally, I was kind of sad that my folks had gone to the trouble and expense to give me this big party and I felt pretty guilty for not enjoying it enough.
Anyway, someone else is turning 10 today, my first Broadway musical, Avenue Q. Much like the bowling party, the lesson of Avenue Q is pretty clear: Sometimes real life does not live up to expectations. All the characters in Avenue Q have to deal with the depressing fact that it sometimes "sucks to be" them, and end up resolving it with a sort-of-Zen awareness that good or bad, their various situations are "only for now."
Unlike my disappointing bowling party, however, Avenue Q as a show has beaten the expectations time and time again, and since it opened on Broadway 10 years ago, has been way more fun, and led to more lasting friendships, than any bowling party ever could have.
It began as a class project in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater workshop, the brainchild of Jeff Marx and myself. Against expectations, we won the Ed Kleban Prize for lyrics our first time applying, and used the winnings to commission some brand new puppets from our friend Rick Lyon. One thing led to another, and all of a sudden we had these top-notch producers wanting to develop the show with us. Then an amazing playwright, Jeff Whitty, came aboard and added his vision. Then Jason Moore, this incredible director, pulled lots of warring ideas together into coherence, and Stephen Oremus made it all sound like it belonged on Broadway. Somehow, beyond expectations, amazing people kept joining our party.
Each time Avenue Q opened in a new location—the O'Neill, the Vineyard, Broadway, London, every tour stop—people have doubted whether the show would work. And every time, audience word of mouth rescued us and made us a hit.
For me, the best part of these last 10 years has been that Avenue Q has allowed me to continue to work in this business, get married to a wonderful woman (who actually inspired a few parts of the show) and have a family together. Now our daughter will be turning 10 in a year and a half. I think I'll give her a bowling party just to squash her dreams—and maybe afterwards, bring her to see Q.
And take her to the lobby during the porn song and the sex scene.