Once-TV-Bound Avenue Q Evolves Into New Off-Broadway Musical

Once-TV-Bound Avenue Q Evolves Into New Off-Broadway Musical "We wanted to pitch it to Comedy Central or Fox or something," said composer-lyricist Jeff Marx to Playbill On-Line about his and fellow composer-lyricist Robert Lopez's new musical Avenue Q.

Avenue Q puppet Kate Monster.
Avenue Q puppet Kate Monster. (Photo by Rick Lyon)

The tuner currently plays at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre, opening March 19.

"That was the first idea," added Marx about plans for their musical creation which mixes puppetry and musical theatre. With send-ups to many popular children's television shows — including "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" — pop culture references and even using Gary Coleman of "Diff'rent Strokes" fame as a character, the show certainly relates to television.

The songwriting duo who share music and lyric credits — Jeff Whitty provides the book — for Avenue Q met at The BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop and found a shared comic sensibility. "We realized that we were missing out on the collaborative aspect of class. We decided to pair up at the end of our first year," Lopez revealed. "It was back in 1998 — before The Full Monty and The Producers were on Broadway — and we realized well, there really aren't any funny shows on Broadway and we'd really like to write one."

Avenue Q's origins began as Lopez and Marx collaborated again in their second year on a project. "We decided to adapt Hamlet for [Jim Henson's] 'The Muppets' and we came up with a show called Kermit, Prince of Denmark." Accepted to BMI's annual cabaret, the team were asked to present one of the songs from the work. They chose "Off to Denver." Lopez explains "The conceit of Kermit, Prince of Denmark was that Kermit the Frog was going to join all the other Muppets in Denver for a skiing vacation and he gets on the wrong plane and ends up in Denmark."

True showmen, Lopez said "We decided to go out on a limb and try to get a puppeteer to do it for us and that paired us up with Rick Lyon. He's a professional 'Sesame Street' puppeteer and he came in and just bowled over the entire class. We realized we had to work with him again." Accordingly, they went to work on Avenue Q for a showcase at BMI. At the showcase, they were approached to present the work as a reading at a theatre. "We had Rick grab a couple of his friends and a couple more puppets and put up a reading on its feet. We invited everyone we knew and said if you know anybody at Comedy Central, let us know, tell them about us," said Marx about the TV-hopeful project. "Then a friend urged us to do it on stage as it was without hiding the puppeteers."

Director Jason Moore and choreographer Ken Roberson work out a traffic pattern in which singing puppeteers and actors both inhabit the fictional street dancing and interacting amongst one another. Among the puppet characters are The Odd Couple-like roommates, the unkempt Nicky and clean-cut Rod; the straight-out-of-college Princeton; nebbishy teacher's assistant Kate Monster; internet-consumed Trekkie Monster; seductress Lucy the Slut; and cuddly but alcohol-pushy Bad Idea Bears. The human roles include the shlubby Brian, his Asian-American fiancee Christmas Eve and Gary Coleman.

About the famed child TV actor, Marx revealed, "Actually, we talked to him. Back when we were thinking of doing it for television, we called to ask if he'd be interested. And he said 'Yeah, I'd be interested!' When it turned out that we were doing it as theatre instead, we decided that having him there would overshadow the whole purpose." Lopez added "There was sort of a theatrical coolness to seeing a woman play him; sort of another weird stage representation like the puppets." Marx summed up, "If you believe in the puppets, you'll believe this woman is Gary Coleman."

The production features the songs: "Avenue Q Theme," "Opening," "If You Were Gay," "Purpose," "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," "The Internet Is For Porn," "A Mix Tape," "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today," "Special," "You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)," "Fantasies Come True," "My Girlfriend, Who Lives In Canada," "There's A Fine, Fine Line," "There Is Life Outside Your Apartment," "The More You Ruv Someone," "Schadenfreude," "I Wish I Could Go Back To College," "The Money Song" And "For Now."

The cast of singers, actors and puppeteers of Avenue Q include Ann Harada, Jen Barnhart, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Jordan Gelber, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, John Tartaglia and Lyon himself.

Ken Roberson carves out choreography. Stephen Oremus serves as music supervisor. The design team features Anna Louizos (sets), Mirena Rada (costumes), Frances Aronson (lights) and Brett Jarvis (sound).

The OB premiere is a co-production by the Vineyard Theatre (artistic director Douglas Aibel) and The New Group (artistic director Scott Elliott).

For tickets to Avenue Q, at the Vineyard, 108 East 15 Street, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or log on to www.telecharge.com.

<i>Avenue Q</i> residents (L-R) Trekkie Monster, Princeton, Rod and Nicky.
Avenue Q residents (L-R) Trekkie Monster, Princeton, Rod and Nicky. (Photo by Rick Lyon)