Bobby Lopez ’97 has had his share of recent success, winning three Tony Awards in 2004, but at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea Thursday, Lopez said he still longs for the “support system” provided by the television puppets of his childhood.
Before a group of about 60 audience members, the co-writer of the hit Broadway musical “Avenue Q” discussed the history of the show as well as ways in which his personal life influenced his writing. Lopez said that beyond its tongue-in-cheek lyrics and jolly melodies, the musical is about adults helping each other through the difficulties of the real world in a way that reclaims the message of “Sesame Street” and other kids’ programs.
“These puppets become part of our lives as kids,” he said. “You feel like you’re embraced by these characters.”
But after graduation from high school or college, Lopez said, that support network disappears and “you find yourself nostalgic for these puppets” in the face of a social structure that promotes a concept of self-respect based almost solely on money.
Lopez said it was these reflections on life that led him and his collaborator, Jeff Marx, to create the world of “Avenue Q” — a “Sesame Street”-like realization of the adult world, filled with crude puppets who sing about issues from homosexuality and racism to sex, love and money. Lopez said the musical was originally designed as a television show, but after the producer of the show “Rent” suggested they move it onstage, Lopez and Marx decided they could not pass up the opportunity.
The writing process was truly collaborative, Lopez said, as he and Marx never wrote anything alone. Almost all of the songs were based on problems they faced as recent college graduates, he said, noting that his favorite song from the musical, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” includes words his girlfriend said to him when they broke up because he “didn’t have enough time for her” while writing “Avenue Q.”
But the two have since resolved their differences and are now married, Lopez said. Because they have an eight-year-old daughter, he said, he has shifted his focus to children’s entertainment. Lopez has begun co-writing a musical version of the Disney movie “Finding Nemo” for performances at Disney World.
“This is my favorite project at the moment, because it’s about parents and that’s what I’m going through right now,” he said.
Lopez performed four songs for the audience, playing the piano and singing the “Avenue Q” songs “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” “Schadenfreude” and a song called “Vote Your Heart” from an extra scene he and Marx created to entertain Tony voters.
When asked to give Yalies advice for the future, Lopez said students should follow the original message of “Avenue Q.”
“You’ve got to learn that life is about harnessing the energy of other people and not thinking you have to do it all yourself,” he said. “I don’t think there’s ever been an achievement that wasn’t somehow a process of people working together.”
While some students in the audience said they found Lopez’s words of advice comforting, others said they had not realized “Avenue Q” had been intended as more than a dark comedy.
“The scenes are very crass,” Michael Lavigne ’09 said. “They can be seen as very critical of our society. But it all kind of wraps up to be positive … It was good that [Lopez] pointed out that this was his intention.”
Mariana Schuck ’09 said she appreciated Lopez’s candor.
“He was so frank,” she said. “You can see how he went from here to there, how he found success. He had us falling over laughing with his anecdotes.”
“Avenue Q,” which won Tony Awards last year for Best Score, Best Book and Best Musical, has expanded to the John Golden Theatre on Broadway in New York City and a specially-constructed theatre in Las Vegas since its March 2003 off-Broadway opening.