Avenue Q

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Everyone’s favourite hellraising puppets are here! Ysabelle Cheung asks the founders of Windmill Grass Theatre about how they intend to shake up the city with Avenue Q

Selecting which Cantonese swear word best suits the lyrics of Avenue Q might seem like a fun pastime but it’s all in a day’s work for city company Windmill Grass Theatre. The theatre troupe is busy translating the Tony Award-winning script into Cantonese for the show – down to every last ‘fuck’, ‘shit’ and ‘screw’. “We did not censor any of the swear words,” says Windmill Grass Theatre co-founder Joey Leung. “The only problem is that there are too many swear words in Cantonese to choose from. It’s the most offensive language in the world. Do you go high-level fuck or lower-level fuck?” 

For the uninitiated, Avenue Q is all fur and innocence on the outside (much like Sesame Street), but with raging hormones – crowd-favourite tune The Internet Is for Porn is sure to raise a few eyebrows – racism and dissatisfaction on the inside. The puppets, all living in the low-rent neighbourhood of Avenue Q, bicker, smoke, drink, crack racial jokes, have sex and generally cause a ruckus on stage. “It’s definitely not for kids,” says co-founder Edmond Tong, who plays the show’s protagonist, Princeton, as well as a gay Republican banker. 

The musical originated Off-Broadway in 2003, and was bumped up to the Great White Way a few months later, winning three Tony Awards in the same year. It has spawned a number of international productions, but none have been so ambitious as to translate the script into a different language. Windmill – set up by former HKAPA students Tong, Leung and Shaw Mei-kan a decade ago – employed the help of TVB celebrity Wong Cho-lam to help translate the cheeky tunes into Cantonese. After successes such as I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (which ran four times), the group says it is damn excited to see the results of Avenue Q’s first translated production. 

“Every show we’ve done has been our favourite,” says Tong. “And Avenue Q is so fun! Learning how to use the puppets, the songs, the jokes... we want to have a rerun just so we can experience it all again!” 

The show isn’t just about wisecracking quips for the sake of it, though. Avenue Q’s moral messages are sure to hit home with today’s generation of graduates. A young man strives to find purpose in his otherwise directionless life (and fails, a lot). A closet homosexual can’t express his love for his straight roommate. All the characters – which include Gary Coleman (played by a Chinese actress), as well as a promiscuous cabaret singer – go through some kind of weird existential crisis and come out the other side feeling just a little bit more human. “I think everyone can relate to this show,” says Tong, “because it has a great, simple message – saying that stress, anxiety and even happiness is only for now. That’s our last song, in fact, For Now. Enjoy life as it is.” Big Bird, eat your fuckin’ heart out. 

Avenue Q Kwai Tsing Theatre, Aug 23-Sep 1. Tickets: $200-$340, urbtix.hk.

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