Monday, September 14, 2009

Avenue Q: The Road From East 15th To 50th Street

Avenue Q: The Road From East 15th To 50th Street

Avenue Q has long been a little musical about firsts.

  • First musical to mount a serious (and successful) campaign to win the Tony for Best Musical.

  • First musical to immediately forego the national tour route in favor of a sitdown (and not so successful) Las Vegas production.

  • First musical to offer "full puppet nudity," as well as puppet sex.

  • First musical to present its version of a presidential debate, dubbed "Avenue Q&A" in which Rick Lyon and Jennifer Barnhart operated George W. Bush and John Kerry puppets, respectively.

  • First musical to host an online contest to change lyrics (President Barack Obama's inauguration necessitated a change from the show-closing line "George Bush is only for now").

  • Now, in perhaps the biggest firsts of them all, Avenue Q will be the first hit* Broadway musical to ever transfer to an Off-Broadway venue.

    During yesterday's Broadway closing, producer Kevin McCollum made the surprise announcement that the little tuner that could would in fact move just a tad more than five blocks from the Great White Way's John Golden Theatre at 252 West 45th Street to Off-Broadway's New World Stages at 340 West 50th Street. According to The New York Times:

    [T]he Off Broadway production would likely use a smaller group of musicians, as when it was performed at the Vineyard Theatre in 2003, and that some reorchestration of the music might be needed. Otherwise, it will use the same sets (and same puppets), and the show’s creative team, including its director Jason Moore and book author Jeff Whitty, will remain with the show. Casting for the Off Broadway production was not announced.
    It should be noted that by vacating the Golden Theatre, Avenue Q was already leaving one of Broadway's smallest theatres, which has a capacity of 805. But for fans, this was very welcome news.

    While Avenue Q made its initial debut during the 2002 National Music Theater Conference at Connecticut's Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, the show's first New York production came in March 2003 at the tiny 120 seat Vineyard Theatre on East 15th Street. Just four months later, Avenue Q made the highly successful leap to Broadway, opening on July 31, 2003. Talk about a quick ride to the Great White Way.

    Later that same fall, I saw Avenue Q and enjoyed myself, even though I have to admit being caught a little off-guard by the level of delight the show took in "Schadenfreude." But the original cast -- John Tartaglia, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Ann Harada, Jordan Gelber, Lyon, Barnhart and Carmen Ruby Floyd as Gary Coleman (Natalie Venetia Belcon was out the night of my performance) -- possessed such a sweet sincerity that I rolled along with it. It wasn't until I took in the first national tour in early 2008 that I was really put off by its overly cynical, mean-spiritedness. In retrospect, I chalk it up to being in too large of a venue with a cast that could not deliver irony quite the way the original did.

    At least with Avenue Q's transfer to the intimate New World stages, its producers won't have to worry about it becoming lost in too large a house. The question will be whether its too-be-announced cast can deliver the goods.

    * Thanks to Alicia for correcting me. Apparently there was another musical to go from Broadway to Off-Broadway, but it was no Broadway hit.

    This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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    At 14 September, 2009, Blogger Alicia said...

    While uncommon and certainly more newsworthy because of its high profile and many awards, AVENUE Q is not the first musical to transfer from Broadway to an Off-Broadway venue. The first to transfer is BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR, which played at the Morosco at the end of the 1969-1970 season and then transferred to the Lucille Lortel a couple weeks after its Broadway closing. The primary difference here is that most people have heard of AVENUE Q... :)

    At 14 September, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

    Thanks for the correction, Alicia. Next question: how on earth did you know that???

    At 14 September, 2009, Blogger Alicia said...

    I cannot tell a lie - I saw it on Ken Davenport's Facebook wall. But my theatre department did BILLY BISHOP when I was in college and then took it to the Edinburgh Fringe, so I was familiar with the show (and it is a pretty good one, I must say...).

    I was also off by a decade with the dates - it was the 1979-1980 season...

    At 14 September, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

    I'll probably see it on tour next month in Providence, in a much, much bigger theatre than the Golden. In Providence, as in many smaller cities, there's often only one theatre where touring Broadway productions play. And it's often much bigger than a Broadway house.


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