Friday, August 1, 2003

Avenue Q


Music & Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Book by Jeff Whitty, based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.
Dir. Jason Moore. New World Stages.

This unlikely parodic puppet phenom moved to Broadway after a hit run at downtown's Vineyard Theatre, and most critics found that the patient survived the transplant with heart, humor, and fake fur intact. A few scribes questioned its raunch level and thin plotline, but few denied that it gave Broadway a fresh jolt.

The New Yorker A+
(Hilton Als) The musical puppet-and-people show Avenue Q (at the Golden) has so much to recommend it—an exceptionally gifted cast, a strong book by Jeff Whitty, with equally strong music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and the splendid direction of Jason Moore—that to focus on the highs in the production is rather like begging at a banquet when one’s plate and cup are full to overflowing.

Curtain Up A
(Jenny Sandman) Hysterical. Truly hysterical. Avenue Q is Sesame Street meets The Simpsons with a touch of Sex and the City...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...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.

Wall Street Journal A
(Terry Teachout) Raucously, cruelly, unsparingly funny…The songs, written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, are wicked, often unprintable parodies of such smile-and-be-sensitive ditties as "Bein’ Green" and "The Rainbow Connection." One of them, "Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist," is so dead on target that I halfway expected the theater to be picketed during the last verse: "Everyone’s a little bit racist—it’s true/But everyone is just about as racist—as you!/If we all could just admit/That we are racist a little bit/And everyone stopped being so P.C.,/Maybe we could live in—harmony!"

New York Post A
(Clive Barnes) A hot ticket at off-Broadway's Vineyard Theater, it has transferred seamlessly to Broadway. The production that opened last night at the Golden Theatre looks better and breathes more easily in the larger space. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who supplied the concept, music and lyrics...took a kiddie show--inspirational values and all--and roughly turned it inside out. It still offers moral values but gives them a sweet, very funny but cheerfully satiric twist. It is, of necessity, cartoonish but never ill-tempered… This young-at-heart show is good dirty fun.

Associated Press
(Michael Kuchwara) A
Oh, those cheerfully misogynistic puppets and other demented denizens of Avenue Q!...The show, on view at the Golden Theatre, has a sassy charm, a quirky sense of humor that successfully negotiates two very different styles that take these Muppet-style creatures much further than Jim Henson ever went.

The Daily News A
(Howard Kissel) Many years ago, Irving Berlin wrote, "Say it with music." Avenue Q, the beguiling and zany new musical that has moved to Broadway from the Vineyard Theatre, might be subtitled "Say it with puppets." The show has a conventional premise but an adroitly written book by Jeff Whitty… Under the fluid direction of Jason Moore, the humans and the puppets interact so gracefully, so naturally, that while you're watching Avenue Q, you never make the distinction. This also stems from the enormous charm of the cast.

Time Out NY
(David Cote) A
Video review: "It's young, it's irreverent. It's a very funny show." A
(Adam Feldman) Avenue Q fits right in on 45th Street. (The Golden's first production, back in 1927, was a play called Puppets of Passion, which has to be a good omen.)...Despite its fancy new digs, Avenue Q has kept a downtown flavor, pitched to a decidedly younger audience than is normally found on Broadway, which can only be good news. The fabulous invalid has just had a transfusion from its hip grandchild, and already the Street is looking fresher.

USA Today
(Elysa Gardner) Q offers something more resonant and less snarky than your typical post-adolescent put-on. Though there are moments when Lopez, Marx and librettist Jeff Whitty betray a youthful fondness for winking at their own cleverness, they relay tough lessons with warmth and wit that will disarm the most jaded grown-ups...Q's often crass, sometimes politically incorrect humor is handled with equal deftness.

Newsday A-
(Linda Winer) The rude yet benign, wicked yet sweet virtually the same clean little raunchy puppet show that already captured the downtown hearts of 20-somethings, slackers, would-be slackers and the parents who love them. To our nervous system, the extended two-hour sketch would be sharper if trimmed to a tight 90 minutes without an intermission. But the affection engendered for this Sesame Street homage and parody since last spring demands, clearly, that director Jason Moore not change a hair on Kate Monster's furry face.

The New York Times B+
(Ben Brantley) Savvy, sassy and eminently likable...The songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx...demonstrate that ambivalence, indecision and low expectations can be the basis for a thoroughly infectious musical. If the plot line sometimes seems to sag and wander in the manner of its aimless characters (and its lopsided first act does go on too long), the individual performances and songs are never less than sharply focused and completely committed to the moment.

(Kate Betts) Onstage the puppeteers are visible, but their puppets get away with behavior for which humans would be sent to their rooms. Amid it all, the characters grow up and move on. Puppet-on-puppet action is quite a sight, but the show's real charm is that unlike its main characters, it has a heart.

Variety B
(Charles Isherwood) The typical Broadway audience may be more bewildered than delighted at the show's smart-alecky conceit, which plays up the disjunction between its tongue-in-cheek preschool tone and R-rated subject matter...The upgraded presentation serves to underscore the show's pitch-perfect mimicry of its aesthetic models, slickly produced tot-targeted TV shows like Sesame Street...For all the cast's appealing work, mock cuteness can sometimes be as overbearing as the authentic kind...Ultimately, the charm in the authors' smart subversion of the saccharine simplicities of kiddie TV shows will wear off earlier for some than others. But those with fresh memories of the unpleasant realities of early adulthood are taking to the show like a baby to a favorite blanket.

Theatermania B-
(David Finkle) You could say that in their insistence on remaining emotionally and societally childish, the Avenue Q characters are the Rent crowd a half-decade and a large lapse in confidence later...Perhaps Marx, Lopez, and Whitty are astutely reflecting their generation's mentality; there are abundant examples of genuine sophistication throughout the revue-like show that seem to countermand the script's low-common-denominator thrust...Contributing to the small-scale musical's effectiveness are the energy and dedication of the performers and the production team.

New York C+
(John Simon) The show is clever, but in a sophomoric way; one torch song begins, “There’s a fine fine line/ Between a lover and a friend,” and there’s an even finer fine line between smart and smart-ass. Yes, the puppets are funny; the live actors as well as the puppeteers who, in plain view, act along with their puppets are versatile and personable; and persiflage in song and dialogue skips along in blissful smuttiness...The creators are Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty, and it’s a moot question whether the show is too whitty or too jeff by half.

Talkin' Broadway C
(Matthew Murray) While Avenue Q has lost nothing moving from Off-Broadway to Broadway, it's also gained very little. It's a small show that fits well in a small house, but it's small show nonetheless. It doesn't get lost in the Golden, but neither does it ever come close to filling it wall-to-wall with the magic a real Broadway musical - whatever its cast size - is capable of generating...It's in the balance between reality and fantasy, and between paying homage to Sesame Street and parodying it outright, that leaves Avenue Q on somewhat shaky footing.

The New Yorker A+ 14; Curtain Up A 13; Wall Street Journal A 13; New York Post A 13; Associated Press A 13; Daily News A 13; Time Out NY A 13; A 13; USA Today A- 12; Newsday A- 12; The New York Times B+ 11; Time B+ 11; Variety B 10; Theatermania B- 9; New York C+ 8; Talkin' Broadway C 7; TOTAL: 11.56 (A-)

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