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A CurtainUp Review
The Three Lives of Avenue Q

Vineyard Premiere Review

Broadway Production Review

Avenue Q Moves Back to Off-Broadway
Avenue Q at New World Stages
Lucy The Slut and Anika Larsen in New World Stages production
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
No sooner did this Tony Award winning puppet musical end its 6-year run on Broadway (22 previews and 2,534 performances), than producer Kevin McCollum announced the first ever reverse transfer of a show from Broadway to Off-Broadway. However, it's not returning to its original downtown off-Broadway home (the Vineyard), but remains uptown at the largest venue of the New World Stages complex. If this reverse transfer succeeds, expect the cast to change as it did on Broadway. And don't be surprised if other Broadway shows with less box office activity follow suit and try this expense downsizing producing model.—e.s.

Along with the cast changes, and the more intimate setting (more like the Vineyard, less like the Golden pm Broadway), there are no major changes—the most noticeable and obvious being a switched satiric reference: From George W. Bush to Fox News.

Current Production Notes
Avenue Q at New World Stages 50th and Eighth Avenue 212/239-6200
From 10/13/09; official reopening 10/21/09
Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 and 8 PM and Sundays at 3 and 7:30 PM
Ticketsfrom $86.50 to $66.50

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Vineyard Premiere Reviewby Les Gutman
There's a fine fine line/
Between together and not/
There's a fine fine line/
Between what you wanted and what you got...

---Kate in "There's a Fine, Fine Line"
A funny thing happened to puppeteer Rick Lyon on the way to getting Avenue Q on its feet: he sprained his own foot. As a consequence, instead of appearing on-stage with his puppets, he has to settle for an off-stage perch from which he supplies some of their voices. It's a shame he's out of the spotlight, because Mr. Lyon's creations, the puppets Princeton, Rod, Kate Monster, Lucy, Nicky, Trekkie Monster (no relation), Mrs. Thistletwat and the Bad Idea Bears, are truly the stars of this show.

The college graduate characters in Avenue Q no doubt grew up watching Sesame Street, as did, I assume, Mssrs. Lopez, Marx and Whitty, its writers. Their show pays homage to the Sesame Street gestalt. In addition to the interaction of humans (there are three in the cast) and puppets, the production relies on video monitors to supply familiar interludes teaching us spelling and vocabulary. The obeisance, however, has clearly come of age: the denizens of the Avenue confront adulthood, complete with its share of trials and tribulations as well as, not that surprisingly, sex.

Princeton (puppeteer John Tartaglia), having recently graduated from college, arrives in New York City with the obligatory (if imprecise) bag of dreams and the almost equally compulsory empty pockets. He stumbles onto Avenue Q ("I started at Avenue A," he tells the residents, "but everything so far is out of my price range.") There he meets an unemployed comedian, Brian (Jordan Gelber) and his Japanese wife-to-be, Christmas Eve (Ann Harada), an unemployed social worker; Nicky (puppeteer Phoebe Kreutz, Rick Lyon's voice) and his roommate Rod (puppeteer Tartaglia) who refuses to admit he's gay; Kate Monster (puppeteer Stephanie D'Abruzzo), an eligible young kindergarten assistant (for a while anyway) with whom Princeton quickly falls into, out of and eventually back in love); Trekkie Monster (the Lyon/Kreutz combo again), a semi-reclusive and very hairy internet sex freak; and Gary Coleman (Natalie Venetia Belcon), the child star who is now the building super. Princeton moves right in.

There's nothing complex about Avenue Q's story, nor should there be. Jeff Whitty has opened a window into a group of lives, managing to render them both funny and appealing. Puppets can get away with things onstage that humans would be upbraided for attempting. So can bookwriters for puppet shows. How would Avenue Q be received without the puppets? Not nearly as well. But why should we care? In the end, we care about our furry yet incredibly articulated new friends, and that's more than we can say about many flesh-and-blood characters we meet in the theater.

The puppet handlers are terrific. Their ability to convey mood and emotion is remarkable, and it infects the audience. Oftentimes in musicals, one must choose to cast actors who can sing or singers who can act. Here, the task is a degree more difficult, as the piece requires puppeteers who can both act and sing. The quartet of puppeteers may not be accomplished musical theater performers in their own right, but they acquit themselves well on all fronts. And they have stiff competition from Ms. Belcon, Mr. Gelber and, most especially, Ms. Harada.

The idea for Avenue Q originated in the minds of its composer/lyricist team, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. They met and began working on the show at the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, and their songs reflect that process. Musically, the songs reveal a range of musical theater styles without veering too far from the Sesame Street aesthetic. Though they don't necessarily expand the form, they produce satisfying results. Lyrically, too, their work has an accomplished feel, even if it sometimes strikes me as a bit formulaic.

If I have a bone to pick, it is that the show sometimes seems more anecdotal than unified. Thus, for instance, though much time is devoted to a sub-plot involving Nicky's crush on Rod and Rod's refusal to come out of the (deep) closet, there's not much of a pay-off. More acutely, there are a number of the songs ("Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" is a good example) that are not very tethered to the rest of the show. Not that they are not a lot of fun.

Beyond the technical wizardry of the puppeteers, a good deal of credit for what is achieved must go to director Jason Moore, who not only stages everything well, but seems especially facile in integrating his breathing and stuffed casts and in gaining a symbiosis (if that's not a contradiction) from their interaction. This show also boasts some excellent work from its designers, including a wealth of aptly clever ideas from set designer Anna Louizos.

Editor's Note:In the interest of maintaining the element of surprise and audience enjoyment, we've moved the song list to the following separate page

Avenue Q
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Book by Jeff Whitty
Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Directed by Jason Moore
with Jennifer Barnhart, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Jordan Gelber, Ann Harada, Rick Lyon (Phoebe Kreutz assisting as puppeteer) and John Tartaglia
Set Design: Anna Louizos
Lighting Design: Frances Aronson
Costume Design: Mirena Rada
Sound Design: Brett Jarvis
Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations by Stephen Oremus
Puppets Conceived and Designed by Rick Lyon
Music Director: Gary Adler
Musicians: Michael Croiter, Mark Hartman and Patience Higgins
Choreography: Ken Roberson br>A production of Vineyard Theatre and The New Group
Running time: 2 hours with 1 intermission
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street (Union Square East/Irving Place)
> Opening March 19, 2003, April closing date not announced -- and extended to 5/04/03--and a third time to 5/11/03 -- with the final story: a move to the Golden Theater on Broadway in July where it will have an official opening July 31, 2003.
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 3/18/03 performance

Broadway Production: Avenue Q Becomes a Broadway Baby by Jenny Sandman
Hysterical. Truly hysterical. Avenue Q is Sesame Street meets The Simpsons with a touch of Sex and the City: Five! Five nightstands! One! One nightstand! Granted, it's somewhat traumatizing watching puppets have sex (and energetic sex at that). They also curse, flip people off, and sing about masturbating to Internet porn. You'll never watch The Muppet Movie in the same way again.

Avenue Q tackles what some have termed the "quarter-life crisis", that period of fear and self-doubt that afflicts twenty-somethings after college. Puppet Princeton is desperately seeking his purpose in life while trying to stay financially solvent at the same time. In fact, most of the characters are adrift, searching for some meaning or direction for their young lives. They make mistakes, sleep with the wrong people, get themselves fired and try desperately to find some meaningful connection to those around them. (In fact, the so-called Bad Idea Bears are one of the best and most original parts of the show-two cute bears who whisper what seem like good ideas at the time: "A six-pack? Why not a case?" "Let's play a drinking game!" "Feel her boob!") At the end, still somewhat adrift, the characters determine that they'll put up with their unanswered questions "for now" -- because everything in life is "for now."

For a puppet show, it's pretty cynical. But New Yorkers can take it. We like cynicism in healthy doses, especially when accompanied by funny songs and naughty jokes.

Avenue Q has all the earmarks of a hit; the Golden, while small, is just the right size for this show, and the production values are apparently a step up from the Vineyard. (Editor's Note: Our review of Avenue Q's premiere there follows Jennie's comments). Those who saw the original production (review of which follows these comments) have found the sets at the Golden to be less makeshift looking and the costumes to be gussied up. Plus the animations are now on large screen monitors. The puppeteers are Sesame Street veterans, and are good actors in their own right. It's definitely one of the most original shows in New York right now, and it's a welcome respite from the usual bland yet-another-revival Broadway fare.

Golden Theater,252 W. 45 St. 212/239-6200 -- the theater which interestingly enough opened in 1927 with a play called PUPPETS OF PASSION.
Author, director, cast and design credits per review following this box
Running Time: 2 hours, includes one intermission.
Mon through Sat @8PM, Wed & Sat @ 2PM --after 9/01/03, Tues through Sat @ 8PM, Sat & Sun @2PM, Sun @ 7PM --$86.25 & $46.25
OK for ages 18 and up. Don't let the puppets fool you. This is NOT a kids show but has a primary audience of twenty-somethings-- with a tertiary audience of teenagers, older folks remembering their own struggles with growing up and watching their kids and grandkids go through the same process.
Final performance: 9/13/09

Editor's Note: In the interest of maintaining the element of surprise and audience enjoyment, we've moved the song list to the following separate page
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