Thursday, October 22, 2009

Avenue Q


Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Book by Jeff Whitty, Directed by Jason Moore. At New World Stages.

Avenue Q made headlines when they managed to (thanks to some union concessions) move the show from Broadway to Off Broadway. So how did the show's return to its (somewhat) scrappier roots fare with the critics? Frankly, reading this crop you get the sense that reviewers have embraced Avenue Q as a pair of causes as much as they have embraced it as a show. And what are those causes? First, that commercial Off Broadway is not dead, and second that innovative musicals can be successful. Thus you get a surprisingly level of sentimentality in this batch of reviews. Brantley's review in the Times, for example, is quite sweet and, dare I write it... moving.

New York Times A
(Ben Brantley) Watching [the cast] bring new shadings to the art of blurring the boundaries between cloth and flesh is a pleasure, as their characters wrestle with issues of sex, love, commitment and time passing. Though I don’t belong to the same generation as these frustrated figures, I felt a reassuring sense of homecoming when I once again saw Anna Louizos’s cartoon urban streetscape. Part of that is a critic’s gratitude for a proven show with an original sensibility in a theater season short on musical imagination. But pretty much anyone who remembers arriving in New York, fresh from school, without a trust fund or a sugar daddy (or momma), will find grounds for identifying with those rudderless figures onstage. The show’s concluding number, “Only for Now,” hymns the curse and comfort of the idea that nothing is forever.

TheaterMania A
(Andy Propst) The Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q remains as sharp and funny at its new Off-Broadway home at New World Stages as it did in its previous incarnations at the Vineyard Theatre and Broadway's Golden Theatre. Indeed, the show's clever score (by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez) and book (by Jeff Whitty) -- about a motley group of New York residents facing life's challenges together -- continue to delight, and director Jason Moore's production still sparkles.

Backstage A
(David Sheward) Seth Rettberg has boyish charm as the puppet protagonist Princeton and endearing fussiness as Rod, the closeted investment banker. Anika Larsen displays a supple, powerful voice as well as impressive comic timing as Kate Monster, Princeton's girlfriend, and Lucy the Slut, the vampish skank who turns his head—and a few other body parts. Sala Iwamatsu lands most of Christmas Eve's sarcastic quips, but her character's Japanese accent is so thick at times that the punch lines get lost. As her comedian-wannabe husband, Brian, Nicholas Kohn has the least showy role, but he holds his own in a cast of puppets and furry monsters. Danielle K. Thomas makes a delightfully nasty Gary Coleman, the former child star turned janitor. Cullen R. Titmas and Maggie Lakis endow a variety of characters, including the cute and destructive Bad News Bears, with puckish personality.

Variety A
(David Rooney) The closing of a long-running Broadway show invariably sends a sentimental pang through the New York theater community. But even if Avenue Q no longer lives on the Main Stem, what matters is that it lives on. Of all the musicals hatched in the post-2000 age of irony, this cheeky satire of children's television shows like "Sesame Street" has arguably remained the freshest and funniest. Returning to its Off Broadway origins, the 2004 Tony winner shows no discernible signs of downsizing and no loss of heart. If anything, its message of endurance with a smile seems even more appropriate for these challenging times.

Wall Street Journal A
(Terry Teachout) Jason Moore's energetic staging actually looks better in a smallish Off-Broadway house than it did in the 800-seat John Golden Theatre...I enjoyed it every bit as much as when I first saw it on Broadway six years ago. So will you.

TalkinBroadway A-
(Matthew Murray) The new theater is smaller and more institutional in feel than the John Golden, but that helps the show regain some of the intimacy it lost between the Vineyard and Broadway. And although the performers are all talented and amiable alumni from other productions, they lack the expansive personalities and artisan puppeteering chops the original actors (including John Tartaglia, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Jennifer Barnhart, and puppet designer Rick Lyon) had. So they have an even harder time stretching a 30-minute-with-commercials joke to over two hours - something that’s been a challenge with this show since its earliest days. There have been a few minor rewrites and restagings over the years: I’m sure a few lines of dialogue near the beginning and a reprise in Act II weren’t there when the show opened, and when Princeton and Kate Monster used to sing of a “Mix Tape,” they held a real tape rather than a CD. (I assume Marx and Lopez thought “mix disc” would be hard for puppets to sing. They’re probably right.) But the show is ultimately almost exactly what it’s always been: warts and wryness, brilliance and brittleness, good ideas and mediocre ones jumbled together to address early-adult concerns too timeless to allow the show to ever be dated.

ThatSoundsCool A-
(Aaron Riccio) The puppets hold up, too--perhaps the biggest compliment one can give to Anika Larsen is that she is so expressive with Kate Monster (and Lucy T. Slut) that at times, you forget she is there. Seth Rettberg, on the other hand, is so visible that it actually lends another dimension to his portrayals of Princeton and especially Rod, who gives a new meaning to "double takes." And through all that, Cullen R. Titmas and Maggie Lakis are still able to steal the show as the adorable, noose-toting Bad Idea Bears. On the flatter side, however, however, are the character actors. Sala Iwamatsu overpowers the role of Christmas Eve--which is saying something, considering that she's a dominating Oriental...ahem, Asian-American...lady. Danielle K. Thomas is a bit too much like Gary Coleman in her portrayal of him: you get the feeling she's just barely showing up, a feeling reinforced by her lackluster number, "You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want." Worst of all is Nicholas Kohn--granted, he's playing Brian, a bad comedian who mopes and lazes around all day, but his low energy brings down every group number.

BS A 13; V A 13; WSJ A 13; NYT A 13; TM A 13; TSC A- 12; TB A- 12; TOTAL: 89/7= 12.71 (A)

No comments: