AVENUE Q GOES VINYL By Peter Filichia
There are three levels of Cast Album Nirvana.
The first occurs when you hear the score and love it so much that you immediately replay the recording again and again.
The second comes after many listens. Now you only need hear the vamp of any song to make you immediately recognize it, smile and say “Ah, yes! Here comes this one!”
But the third stage – which represents the ultimate success for any album – is that, as soon as one song ends, you hear in your head the beginning of the next song before it even starts.
I experienced Cast Album Nirvana with Hello, Dolly! in the ‘60s, A Chorus Line in the ‘70s, Sunday in the Park with George in the ‘80s, Ragtime in the ‘90s, Avenue Q in the ‘00s and A Christmas Story in the ‘10s.
Needless to say, no matter how deep is my love, I eventually move on to a new recording. As Avenue Q admits, “Everything in life is only for now.” And yet, I’m having a renaissance with that 2003-2004 Tony-winning musical (and Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s Tony-winning score) because Avenue Q has just been released on a two-vinyl disc edition.
This is one of the greatest honors a post-LP-era cast album can get. Comparatively speaking, there haven’t been many recent musicals that have been anointed in vinyl as well as CDs and downloads: Hairspray, If/Then, Kinky Boots, Once, SpongeBob SquarePants and Bette Midler’s Hello, Dolly! are among those that got the extra boost.
So this new vinyl package for Avenue Q is spurring me to revisit songs that range from upbeat and catchy (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”) to tender (“Fantasies Come True”). From a funky waltz (“My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada”) to upbeat rock (“Purpose”) and to soul (“You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want”), there’s many a fine, fine melody and line (including in “There’s a Fine, Fine Line”).
Lopez and Marx’s lyrics are often monosyllabically simple – and should be for a spoof of a kid’s show (Sesame Street, in case you don’t remember). That doesn’t mean they can’t be wildly funny; a reference to a Hoover vacuum cleaner probably wasn’t a product placement by that company.
“Mix Tape” is a masterstroke of song in which one puppet (Kate Monster) infers that another (Princeton) likes her from the romantically-inclined songs that he’d selected to record on a cassette for her. Not quite, but something else reveals his ardor.
During the autumn of 2003, I didn’t want a mix tape of anything; I just wanted to replay Avenue Q. Back then I whistled one song so much at work that a colleague eventually asked “What’s that you’re whistling?” I was just about to say “It Sucks to be Me,” which would have sounded too inelegant. Lucky for me, the same melody is used at the end of the show as “For Now” — so that’s what I said instead.
Oh, well, I could have just been whistling “The Internet Is for Porn” and had to ‘fess up to it. And that brings us to Avenue Q’s saltiness. Although the CD carried a parental advisory label on its jewel box, the vinyl jacket doesn’t. The reason may be that in the past fifteen years, we’ve become more accustomed to such language. Compared to many properties we’ve since experienced, Avenue Q is a mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
So now it’s on vinyl – as are, by the way, reissues of Chicago, A Chorus Line, My Fair Lady and West Side Story. You may wonder why these four were re-vinyl-ized, given that the original pressings of their long-playing records litter every thrift shop’s dollar (or less) bargain bins.
Today’s vinyl releases, however, aren’t the same as their granddaddies. Now they’re on 180-gram vinyl as opposed to yesteryears’ 120-gram.
Says the website Vinyl Junkies, “A heavier vinyl platter is more robust and durable. A 180-gram LP is not only more satisfying to handle and place on the turntable, but it also offers more resistance to klutzy manipulation and other possible abuses.”
(That’s not irrelevant. I scratched my original cast album of Stop the World — I Want to Get Off the first time I went to play it.)
What’s more, claims Vinyl Junkies, “A heavier record provides a more stable platform for your stylus.”
Stylus! Now there’s a word that may make millennials scratch their heads with the same vigor they give when they hear “floppy discs” and “dot matrix.” The more common term for stylus is needle, which you’ll need – along with a turntable, of course, if you’re to play vinyl.
Two-LP releases almost always meant “gatefold” covers – i.e., two record jackets merged together that would open up like a large picture book. Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway were marked exceptions; for some reason, each of them came in a box.
But double-disc Cowardy Custard, Follies in Concert, Sondheim: A Musical Tribute and Sweeney Todd used gatefolds that were the hallmark of Great Broadway Musicals. The aforementioned Coward and Sondheim two-LP recordings had an inordinate amount of music and a plethora of songs. So why is Avenue Q, which has always weighed in at only a few dozen seconds longer than an hour, on two discs? Even the LP of A Little Night Music – at a full hour – managed to squeeze itself onto an LP (albeit by speeding up the voices a tad).
All to accommodate the dynamic range, my dear. People have been saying for years that the vinyl sound is warmer. Others dispute that, but the sound on grooves that aren’t as crammed together is, by most accounts, superior.
The twelve-inch jackets allow for twelve-inch sheets that give you every one of Lopez and Marx’s delectable lyrics.
This new printing will be a boon for farsighted CD buyers who have wanted to read what Lopez and Marx wrought but could never make out the teeny-tiny type in the booklet.
The lyrics are printed on orange paper in tandem with records that are on orange vinyl. Both pay tribute to the logo of Avenue Q which has always featured a splash of that color. In fact, the 2006 hardcover Avenue Q commemorative book from Hyperion is covered with orange feathers, all to celebrate the show’s similarly colored Cookie Monster.
(If you bought the book, you’re probably still sweeping up a stray feather that had no trouble extricating itself from the spine or front cover.)
Most Avenue Q’s logo, though, is black. Thus the decision could have been made to press the records in that color that has been time-honored and preferred throughout recording history. But to paraphrase Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, “So what’s wrong with making vinyl a joyous occasion?”
For here’s a musical that’s always been distinctive: Avenue Q is the only show that has ever played six-plus years on Broadway and then followed it with eight-plus more years (and counting!) off-Broadway. Thus it requires some extra-special attention.
In a very short time, a vinyl Avenue Q will become a collector’s item, for only 2,500 have been pressed. If you’d like one, be apprised that you’ll have to get in touch with Books-A-Million, with whom an exclusive deal has been made. If you’re not in one of the eighteen states in which its 250-plus stores reside, you can order HERE.
To paraphrase a delightful Avenue Q lyric, “Give ‘em your money.”
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.