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Review - Avenue Q

No, that steady rumble you may hear and feel beneath your feet as you walk along 50th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues these evenings is not the A train making its way to Columbus Circle. It's the sound of laughing audiences having a swell time in the underground quintet of auditoriums called New World Stages. The former movie multiplex turned Off-Broadway house seems to be experiencing a happy renaissance, with its long-running anchor production, Altar Boyz, having been joined by laughter-inducing hits like The Toxic Avenger, Naked Boys Singing, My First Time and The Gazillion Bubble Show (which I haven't seen but I'm sure brings out many giggles from the youngsters). The hilarious Love Child, which previously ran at 59E59 will be moving in shortly, but first the welcome mat (and perhaps a red carpet) has been set for the center's new crown jewel as the Tony-winning Avenue Q completes its successful Broadway run and returns to its Off-Broadway roots.

The show that asks the musical question, "What if the generation of American kids who grew up learning life's little lessons by watching television shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company had the same kind of program that used puppets, catchy songs and friendly humans to help them learn the big lessons they need to know after graduating college and entering the real world?," started as the brainchild of composer/lyricists Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. When their hilariously educational tunes like, "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," "If You Were Gay (That Would Be Okay)" and the who-are-the-losers-in-your-neighborbood? anthem, "It Sucks To Be Me" were combined with Jeff Whitty's very funny and surprisingly touching book, Rick Lyon's personality-laden puppets and Jason Moore's crafty direction that enhanced the material's satirical edge while keeping the characters loveable, a truly original Broadway hit was born.

I haven't seen Avenue Q since shortly after its Broadway opening but if my memory serves well, aside from a some slight staging changes and perhaps one or two book revisions, everything looks the same, right down to Anna Louizos' slumscape set that hides surprises in secret compartments. (Okay, one aspect that changed with the times is that when one character sings of a "mixed tape" of songs another has recorded for her, she's not longer hold a cassette tape, but a CD. However a couple of reliable sources have clued me in that the term "mixed tape" is still used in such cases.)

The new Off-Broadway cast is a talented and likeable ensemble made up of Q vets from Broadway and national tours. Seth Rettberg is all wide-eyed enthusiasm manipulating Princeton, the 22-year-old college graduate ready to take on the world armed with nothing but a B.A. in English. Anika Larsen, whose rich, expressive belt has livened up many a Gotham musical, tones it down to a sweeter level as Kate Monster, Princeton's puppet love interest, but gets to show off her sassy vocals as over-sexed nightclub entertainer known as Lucy The Slut.

Rettberg also scores as the closeted gay Republican investment banker Rod, who is nervous about not being able to keep the door shut much longer as he grows more and more attracted to his roommate, Nicky (a merrily goofy Cullen R. Titmas who doubles as the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster.) While Maggie Lakis doesn't have any large roles to play (she's an adorable half of The Bad Idea Bears), she's most visible while being a second hand to help manipulate puppets voiced by others, doing a charming job of silently expressing whatever is being said.

On the human side, Nicholas Kohn (as the genial, underachieving wannabe stand-up comic, Brian), Sala Iwamatsu (as his demanding fiancé named Christmas Eve) and Danielle K. Thomas (who sings with a raucous R&B swagger as former child star Gary Coleman) all make very funny contributions to this sharp and breezy mounting of a gem of a show.

Photo by Carol Rosegg: Maggie Lakis, Cullen R. Titmas and Seth Rettberg

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From This Author Kristin Salaky

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