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12/2/09
Avenue Q Off – Then On – Now Off Broadway again
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They’re probably the only ones in New York for whom downsizing feels like a step up in the world: the twenty-somethings of Avenue Q. Princeton, Kate Monster and the rest of the Avenue Q crew are six years older now since they debuted on Broadway back in 2003 and yet they’re still struggling to make rent, learn about love and find a career. That the songs and antics of these outer-borough, not-quite-bohemians remain as fresh as ever (despite cast changes, a new post-recession New York, and a move to a smaller theater) is a tribute to the show’s strength. Like its plucky characters, Avenue Q has gone from Off-Broadway to Broadway and now back to Off-Broadway again—and hasn’t missed a beat. The production currently playing at the New World Stages is just as funny as before and none of the laughs have been lost—and neither has the show’s deeper resonance.

Now, let’s not pretend Avenue Q is Chekhov, but part of the reason for its lengthy success is that its simple tale artfully conveys certain truths: that life after college is a bracing time, that roommates and relationships are never easy and, of course, that the internet is for porn. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s songs convey these simple lessons in the style of Sesame Street jingles and revisiting the show feels like watching reruns of an old PBS kids show or ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock (albeit with more four-letter words). Watching Avenue Q Off-Broadway feels in some ways like a homecoming. A more intimate theater and cheaper ticket prices is perhaps best for a show that caters to—no, actually is essential viewing—for recent college graduates who’ve just moved into their first New York apartments.

Avenue QThe standout of the new cast is Anika Larsen who is the voice and puppeteer of both Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut. Kate is the real soul of Avenue Q and Larsen is pitch perfect in delivering the number “It’s a Fine, Fine Line.” The rest of the cast is solid and Rick Lyon’s puppets still dazzle—the furry, colorful creatures are still more dynamic than the leads in a number of current Broadway musicals. (The audience at the performance I attended roared with laughter during the show’s signature gags and set pieces.) In these uncertain financial times, a larger swath of people may relate to living on Avenue Q; that and the enduring charm of its songs would seem to suggest that this musical is to the Bush-Great Recession era what Cats (1982-2000) was to Reagan-Clinton boom years. Perhaps its slogan should be: Avenue Q, “For now” and forever?

Images: Princeton, Seth Rettberg, Kate Monster and Anika Larsen in a scene from  AVENUE Q – at New World Stages. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.