Thursday, October 22, 2009

Avenue Q: For Longer Than Now

"Avenue Q" is alive and well and living Off-Broadway. And there is virtually no difference at all between its current incarnation at New World Stages and its Broadway production.

Six years ago, one knew whether this clever little musical comedy with puppets resetting the feel-good optimism of “Sesame Street” to a post-collegiate atmosphere set in one of New York City’s outer boroughs, would survive on Broadway following its downtown premiere at the not-for-profit Vineyard Theatre.

After quickly receiving acclaim from the critics and slowly gaining afan base, “Avenue Q” won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical over “Wicked.” At the time, it felt like David slaying Goliath. In spite of frequent changes to the cast, it stayed in mint condition and played to packed houses.

When it was announced last summer that “Avenue Q” would play its final performance on Broadway on September 13, 2009, its fans were both crushed and angered – especially by the fact that it was being unceremoniously evicted from the Golden Theatre to make way for the current revival of “Oleanna.”

In a post-curtain speech after its final Broadway performance, producer Kevin McCollum made a surprising announcement: in defiance of Broadway politics, “Avenue Q” would reopen the following month in an Off-Broadway theater just five blocks away.

This represents a huge milestone in blurring the increasingly arbitrary boundaries between what is considered Broadway and Off-Broadway. But more importantly, “Avenue Q” has lost absolutely none of its luster. It looks and sounds exactly the same as before. It just happens to be in a more intimate theater with less expensive tickets and more comfy seats.

Every member of the Off-Broadway cast has previously appeared in the show either on Broadway or in the national tour. But it is Anika Larsen who truly stands out, giving a heartfelt and hilarious performance as Kate Monster.

When George W. Bush left office, and the punch line of the show's finale (“George Bush is only for now”) became obsolete, many feared that “Avenue Q” too had become dated. On the contrary, the show remains just as poignant and hilarious as ever. It is truly our good fortune that it is still around.

New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., 212-239-6200, Open Run.


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