A Re-"Purpose" for Avenue Q

Special Features   A Re-"Purpose" for Avenue Q
The Tony-winning Avenue Q comes back to Off-Broadway, where it all began for the show about people and puppets realizing their purpose.
John Tartaglia Carol Rosegg

When companies downsize, they cut employees, services and quality. In October 2009, when Avenue Q "downsized" — moving from its Broadway home of six years (the Golden), to Off-Broadway's New World Stages — it lost 306 seats, some of its ticket price, and…that's about it. The shabby New York City block seen on stage has been recycled from Broadway. "It's the same orchestrations," says composer-lyricist Bobby Lopez; although the six-piece Broadway band has been reduced to four for Q's Off-Broadway run. And there are still seven actors and four understudies to take on the human and puppet roles: heavily accented Christmas Eve, unfunny/unemployed comic Brian, purposeless Princeton, big-hearted Kate, big-breasted Lucy, and more. (Cracks fellow songwriter Jeff Marx: "That's the advantage of having your main characters made out of foam — they don't need big dressing rooms!")

In fact, after moving Off-Broadway, Avenue Q has actually gained something: a liquor license. Waiters bring drinks to the audience before the show and during intermission. ("More drinks! More fun!" says one enterprising waiter — sounding suspiciously like the show's adorably naughty Bad Idea Bears.)

"Avenue Q goes down easily with a couple drinks," says librettist Jeff Whitty.

Not that you need booze to appreciate Q's straight-talking charm (sample song: "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?"), political incorrectness ("Everyone's a Little Bit Racist") and slightly filthy sensibility ("The Internet Is for Porn"). "One of the criteria for a great show is seeing things you've never seen on stage — wonderful, hilarious, moving, surprising," explains producer Robyn Goodman. "Avenue Q has a million of those things." Just a few examples: a slutty puppet singing a torch song, child star Gary Coleman (played by a woman) working as the super, and two puppets tossing back Long Island iced teas and engaging in frighteningly acrobatic sex. (And yes, Long Island iced teas are available at the theatre.)

"It's different from anything else you can see on Broadway or Off-Broadway," says producer Kevin McCollum. "It has an audience from 16 years old to 101 — 16 to as long as you can live!" That's why Q has lasted since 2003, from its initial six-week Off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre to Broadway — where Whitty, Marx and Lopez all earned Tony Awards and where, magically, the show won Best Musical over heavy favorite Wicked — to Off-Broadway again. "Everyone stayed tight-lipped about the New World transfer...even the authors didn't know it was set until a couple weeks prior," explains Goodman.

"When you're on Broadway — and there's nothing better than being on Broadway — there are so many economic realities," explains McCollum. "[Avenue Q] is about coming to New York against all odds and pursuing your dreams." Or as one Q resident, the questionably straight Rod, puts it: "Avenue Q is the Cher of musicals — we just keep having comeback after comeback!"

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