Theater Review: 15 Years of ‘Avenue Q’ As Original Stars Return

Welcome to Avenue Q.

By Jonathan Spira on 17 July 2018
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It’s been 15 years since “Avenue Q,” the brilliant slacker musical, opened on Broadway with the cheery and rather innocent sounding opening number

The sun is shining,
It’s a lovely day,
A perfect morning
For a kid to play…

However, as the song continues, the theatergoer starts to realize we’re not on Sesame Street anymore, but on a much darker and far more fun place.

The first time I saw “Avenue Q,” shortly after it transferred to Broadway in 2003, I really didn’t know what to think of it but I do recall what I told a friend: “It was Sesame Street on acid.”

Original cast members Ann Harada and Jordan Gelber

Original cast members Ann Harada and Jordan Gelber

A modern coming-of-age story, “Avenue Q” struck a cord in me: it was about 20- and 30-somethings who are looking for their purpose and ambivalent about a future where having a B.A. in English doesn’t add up to very much.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary, original stars including John Tartaglia (Princeton and Rod) and Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut) return, until the end of the month, to reprise portions of their original roles. On Monday night, the first night of the celebration, which I attended, Jordan Gelber (Brian) and Ann Harada (Christmas Eve) returned to the street where rents are so low they make alphabet city the place which one moves up to.

The cast is comprised of three human characters and 11 puppet characters, although they interact with one another as if they were all human. If the names, cheery tone, and colorful costumes look familiar, you only have to go as far as “Sesame Street” to see where the show’s creators, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who also wrote the music and lyrics, took their inspiration from.

The puppets are animated and voiced by actor/puppeteers who are unconcealed although in dark clothing so as to not stand out. As one would expect with a crew that includes several alumni from the Children’s Television Workshop and “Sesame Street,” the puppeteering is complex.

Some 15 years later, nothing in “Avenue Q” feels dated. The songs, clearly an homage to the less racy, more instructional songs heard on that famous street, are as relevant today as they were then, the messages in some of them (one in particular, in which a Japanese cast member informs us that “evelyone’s a rittle bit lacist’,’ comes to mind) perhaps more so.

The songs from Avenue Q have been favorites of mine since the first time I saw the show.  Indeed, there’s only one change in the entire production (spoiler alert) and it comes at the end  in “For Now,” the closing number, where the ensemble looks at what’s in store for them in the future. (“You’ll be faced with problems of all shapes and sizes”).  After calling out “sex” and “your hair” as faux ad libs in the course of the song, the faux ad lib “George Bush” from 2003 has been updated multiple times to include “Fox News” and “Prop 8” among other things.  To the surprise of no one, the faux ad lib that the returning cast members will shout out will be no other than “Donald Trump.”

“Avenue Q” opened Off-Broadway in March 2003 at the Vineyard Theatre and transferred to Broadway and the John Golden Theatre four months later, and won three Tony Awards including Best Musical.  It remained on Broadway until 2009, when it moved to New World Stages.   In 2006, it premiered in the West End in the Noël Coward Theatre, where it was produced by Cameron Mackintosh with several changes for British audiences including the portrayal of Gary Coleman by a male actor, historically a female role. In addition to a brief stint in Las Vegas, the show has also spawned two national tours and international productions in multiple countries including a German-language version

THE DETAILS

Avenue Q
New World Stages
340 W 50th Street
New York, N.Y. 10019
Runtime: Two hours and 15 minutes
www.avenueq.com

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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