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Strolling Anew up Avenue Q

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The theatrical commentariat said it, and now I know it’s true: Avenue Q is better Off Broadway, in a more intimate venue, than on Broadway where I first saw it. It’s a small, intimate musical and it belongs in a smaller, friendly venue, like New World Stages, where it’s been for a little over a year since its long and successful Broadway run ended. (See below for a promotional code for discounted tickets for Blogcritics readers.)

Avenue Q, the puppet-driven story of youthful disillusionment that manages to be both cynical and uplifting, adorable and raunchy, won three Tonys in 2004. Not to say that any of them were undeserved—the score, in particular, is outstanding—but my reaction on seeing the Broadway production was, what’s the big deal? I came away from that version mostly admiring the innovative presentation of the puppets, which were manipulated by actors right on stage. Sometimes one actor did the voices of two puppets in the same scene—as Anika Larsen did, wonderfully well, last night as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut.

That, in fact, was one point on which I was curious: would this technique be as effective up close? It turns out there is more of an adjustment required when you’re nearer the stage. When you can see the actors’ expressions—and these actors are very expressive—it takes time to get used to the idea that you’re supposed to watch the puppets. Soon, though, you establish a rhythm, like an opera-goer reading supertitles while still fully appreciating the spectacle on stage.

I was more concerned that this Internet-era show about hard-luck city dwellers wouldn’t age well, given how fast technology and the economy are changing. Would it feel dated in 2011? Would it feel too strictly of its time, like Rent?

It didn’t. The ways we use the Internet have evolved a good deal, but, as the puppet Trekkie Monster insists, it does, still, seem to be “for porn.” And though “volatility” has been replaced by “great recession” in economy-talk, there are more unemployed people than ever, and the homeless, anecdotally at least, are certainly making a comeback on New York City streets. More important: the essential themes of the show are plainspoken, timeless, and independent of technology. Well-told stories about fundamental aspects of the human condition—finding yourself (or, more apropos here, failing to do so); falling in love; graphic puppet sex—these won’t ever go out of fashion!

Avenue Q is at New World Stages, 340 W. 50 St., New York, and Blogcritics is pleased to be able to offer readers a special discount for tickets. Click here and use the code AQBLOG12 for tickets as low as $55.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.