BOTTOM LINE: Still as entertaining as it was back in 2004 when it opened on Broadway.
Laughter is an important catharsis, and really good laughter that makes your abs hurt is reserved only for the finest comedy. I am excited to report that Avenue Q, now enjoying an off-Broadway run at New World Stages, still makes me chuckle to the point of tears just as it did six years ago when it opened on Broadway.
Avenue Q (or the dirty puppet musical, as some know it, shown here with the original Broadway cast) has taken an interesting production turn by closing its Broadway run in September only to somewhat immediately open off-Broadway. Obviously, producers thought its success was far from over, at least in a smaller theatre for a slightly cheaper ticket price. Announcements that Avenue Q was closing on Broadway came as a shock, since the show had been a smash since it opened in 2003.Â Beating all odds, the satirical new musical won the 2004 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score (Wicked lost in an upset).
Now Avenue Q has taken residence at New World Stages, the commercial off-Broadway house just outside the theatre district that offers several theatres and consequently, several shows, at the same time. New World Stages is a cool space, although it feels very sterile, somewhat space-age and mostly like a movie theatre with multiple â€œscreensâ€ and several bars (for both snacks and alcohol). Contrast this with Avenue Qâ€™s gritty, from-the-outskirts-of-Manhattan feel, and all of a sudden the commercial intentions of the production become all-too-clear. It made me wish I had seen the show in its original off-Broadway debut at The Vineyard Theater. But regardless, the medium-sized house provides a comfy space to see this show.
Avenue Q appeals to me (and I would argue, to everyone else) because it is so genuinely relatable and it connects in a non-obvious yet completely sincere way. A satire of childrenâ€™s programming (namely Sesame Street and other puppet shows, although explicitly not modeled after them according to the playbill), Avenue Q offers a very human story: a recent college graduate comes to New York City to pursue his dreams. He quickly realizes that achieving success is harder than he was always led to believe, especially in a city known for chewing up and spitting out naÃ¯ve early twenty-somethings. Through the troubles life throws at him (relationships, job hunting, paying rent, etc.) he maintains his desire to find his purpose and one could argue he comes out of his first years in New York a stronger, better, and more secure person, ahem, puppet.
Both puppets and real people are employed as the characters in the story, although for the purposes of storytelling, there isnâ€™t any difference between a character that is a puppet and a character that is a human. They are all equally weighted in the tale and they all interact with each other as if they are one in the same (think Sesame Street).Â No, itâ€™s not weird; itâ€™s brilliant. Presenting this very adult story as an homage to childrenâ€™s entertainment not only drives home the point that we all have to grow up at some point, but also provides unique storytelling opportunities.
Although Avenue Q is a well-oiled machine at this point, the cast is still having fun, the direction (by Jason Moore) is tighter than ever and the music is still remarkably good (this is a soundtrack to own). Plus, the songs are absolutely hysterical: with â€œEveryoneâ€™s a Little Bit Racistâ€ and â€œThe Internet is for Porn,â€ for example, audiences can enjoy raunchy lyrics, dirty puns and inappropriate context in a surprisingly well-orchestrated and musically impressive score (Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who wrote the music and lyrics, knew exactly what they were doing).
I rarely gush about new shows, let alone shows that are in their third run over an eight year span, but I sincerely think Avenue Q is an important musical for this generation of theatre, and certainly one to be seen for entertainment value alone. If you havenâ€™t already seen it youâ€™re in for a treat and if you have seen it before, check out its new digs just west of the Broadway scene. Iâ€™d caution against taking anyone easily offended by dirty words or puppet sex, but other than that itâ€™s an enjoyable experience for anyone with a sense of humor who remembers what it was like to be an optimistic kid fresh out of college and ready to take on the world.
Avenue Q plays at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., between 8th and 9th Ave. Performances are Mon and Wed-Fri at 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, and Sun 3 and 7:30 PM. The show runs 2 hrs. 15 min., with one intermission. Tickets are $69.50-$89.50 and can be purchased at telecharge.com; for $55-$65 tickets (plus a free drink), use discount code AQBBOX909 when purchasing. For more show info, visit avenueq.com.