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Avenue Q (07/31/2003 - 09/13/2009)


 

AP: "Avenue Q: Dingy Detour Off Sesame Street"

Oh, those cheerfully misogynistic puppets and other demented denizens of "Avenue Q"!

Their insecurities are on view again, and they remain as entertaining as  they were last spring, when these hang-ups, put-downs and struggles with growing up were first displayed at off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre.

Now, it's on Broadway, where a scenically enhanced and slightly tweaked version of "Avenue Q" opened Thursday to what should be, if there is any justice, a rapturous reception

The show, on view at the Golden Theatre, has a sassy charm, a quirky sense of humor that successfully negotiates two very different styles that take these Muppet-style creatures much further than Jim Henson ever went.

Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, the creators of "Avenue Q," have fused the chirpy, ever-peppy world of musical theater with the jaded, iconoclastic and raunchy environment of twentysomethings who were weaned on "Sesame Street," reruns of '80s sitcoms such as "Diff’rent Strokes" and the Internet.

Not many musicals would open with a tuneful little ditty that has the entire cast proclaiming, in the most joyous manner possible, "It Sucks to Be Me."

The score by Lopez and Marx serenades and sends up musical conventions at the same time. Sort of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" meets "South Park," complete with four-letter words.

Whitty's loosely constructed book, which uses puppets and real live actors, is a series of conflicts that revolve around the residents of Avenue Q, a rundown street in an outer borough of New York. Director Jason Moore keeps the plot bubbling quite nicely.

Much of the action centers on recent college grad Princeton, an earnest young man, er, puppet, in search of what he fondly calls his "purpose."

Along the way, Princeton gets sidetracked by a sweet yet furry kindergarten teaching assistant named Kate Monster and a voluptuous vixen with the telltale name of Lucy T. Slut, who starred in "Girls Gone Wild" (Parts 2, 5 and 7).

All three puppets are operated, for the most part, by either John Tartaglia and Stephanie D'Abruzzo, two veterans of the real "Sesame Street." Both are musical-theater finds. Tartaglia's eager, All-American demeanor is appealing and he sings well, too. D'Abruzzo gets even more of a vocal workout, alternating between the gentle Kate and the jazzy, buxom Lucy.

After a few too many Long Island iced teas, Princeton and Kate Monster go to bed. Sex and all the problems that relationships entail are just part of the confusing life on Avenue Q. And in keeping with the recent trend toward more nakedness on Broadway, there is a bit of full frontal puppetry nudity. Miss Piggy would not be pleased.

The rest of the cast - played by both actors and puppets - is a veritable mock-rainbow coalition. They include a closeted, gay Republican investment banker; a Japanese therapist with the unlikely name of Christmas Eve; a hairy creature obsessed by Internet porn; a frustrated Jewish standup comedian; the investment banker's slacker, yet straight roommate, and Gary Coleman the diminutive star of "Diff’rent Strokes."

Well, not the real Gary Coleman but rather the buoyant Natalie Venetia Belcon who impersonates Coleman. In the musical, the former child actor is now working as a superintendent on Avenue Q. Hey, times are tough.

Special mention should be made of Rick Lyon, who designed the puppets and also operates several of them, most effectively the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster.

Designer Anna Louizos' setting is a row of dilapidated brownstones augmented by two large video screens on either side of the stage. These screens are used for the display of homey, instructional messages as well an explanation of such words as "schadenfreude," German for "happiness at the misfortune of others."

"Schadenfreude" also happens to be the title of one of the evening's more catchy numbers, a tune in which one of the characters rejoices at the apparent demise of a rival. A listing of other songs will give some idea of the show's off-kilter humor: "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," a clever bit at undermining bigotry through laughter, and "The More You Ruv Someone," a torch song full of soulful advice and fractured English, delightfully delivered by Ann Harada who plays the Asian shrink.

"Avenue Q" may not be such a bad place to live, after all.


AP
07/31/2003

New York Daily News: "Zany 'Sesame St.'-smart puppets light up B'way"

Many years ago, Irving Berlin wrote, "Say it with music."

"Avenue Q," the beguiling and zany new musical that has moved to Broadway from the Vineyard Theatre, might be subtitled "Say it with puppets."

The show has a conventional premise but an adroitly written book by Jeff Whitty: A bunch of young people in a run-down neighborhood of New York are seeking love and identity in the world.

If the characters were merely people, the show might seem all too familiar.

But the people on stage are there to manipulate the marvelous puppets created by Rick Lyon, who, many years ago, worked with Jim Henson.

If the puppets remind you of "Sesame Street," it's intentional, because a lot of the musical numbers gently parody the style of that kiddie show.

One of the musical numbers, for example, is "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." It has the good-natured quality of "Sesame Street" homilies, but because the puppets have a wonderfully dizzy quality, matched by the music, it never seems like sermonizing.

This tongue-in-cheek tone pervades the show, especially its cast of characters. They range from Kate, a kindergarten teaching assistant who was born a monster and wants to create tolerance for monsters, to Princeton, a preppy college graduate, to Trekkie Monster, who devotes his time wholeheartedly to Internet porn. As far as he's concerned, that's what the information superhighway was created for.

There are three actual human characters: Gary Coleman, the retired child TV star who is now a super; an Asian psychologist whose name is Christmas Eve, and her layabout husband.

Under the fluid direction of Jason Moore, the humans and the puppets interact so gracefully, so naturally, that while you're watching "Avenue Q," you never make the distinction.

This also stems from the enormous charm of the cast. John Tartaglia is extremely winning as both the preppie hero and Rod, a confused investment banker whose confession that he is a Republican draws more gasps than the revelation that he's gay.

Similarly, Stephanie D'Abruzzo is deeply appealing as the monster who has set her heart on the preppie. Natalie Venetia Belcon has just the right cockiness as Gary Coleman.

At times, "Avenue Q seems like an old-fashioned revue, but that is part of its strength. The music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx have a sauciness, an irreverence that keep you laughing from the second the curtain goes up until its triumphant fall.

Splendidly designed and performed, "Avenue Q should keep theatergoers entertained for a long time to come.


New York Daily News
08/01/2003

New York Post: "Get On Queue For 'Avenue'"

"Avenue Q" is a puppet show for people who hate puppet shows.

A mix of real people and puppets -often more real than the people - "Avenue Q is a long way from "Sesame Street." In fact, if it were a film it would be rated NC-17, with four-letter words and explicit puppet sex.

But it's in the same city as Jim Henson's Muppets, if not the same neighborhood.

A hot ticket at off-Broadway's Vineyard Theater, it has transferred seamlessly to Broadway. The production that opened last night at the Golden Theatre looks better and breathes more easily in the larger space.

Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who supplied the concept, music and lyrics of "Avenue Q," took a kiddie show - inspirational values and all - and roughly turned it inside out.

It still offers moral values but gives them a sweet, very funny but cheerfully satiric twist. It is, of necessity, cartoonish but never ill-tempered.

Jeff Whitty's book concerns a young college graduate named Princeton with an English degree, no job and nowhere to live - until he arrives at Avenue Q, just about the last stop in Alphabet City.

Here he acquires a cheap walk-up and meets a girl, a homely kindergarten aide named Kate Monster, who has almost given up hope for a serious relationship.

Despite Princeton's dallying with the local bad girl, Lucy T. Slut, it all ends happily.

It even ends happily for the uptight gay Rod, who finally erupts from his closet to welcome back his straight roommate, Nicky; the reclusive Trekkie Monster, who lives to watch porn on the internet; and Lucy, who abandons her slutty ways.

The tuneful music is in that upbeat, old-fashioned style; the lyrics are wickedly naughty and - like Jason Moore's cunning staging, Anna Louizos' tenement setting and Mirena Rada's costumes - suggest a TV kiddie show gone wild and rancid.

There are three fine human performers: Jordan Gelber, Ann Harada and Natalie Venetia Bacon, the latter playing the building super Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman).

Even so, the puppets and their singing and dancing onstage puppeteers - John Tartaglia, Stephanie D'Abruzzo and Rick Lyon, well-supported by Jennifer Barnhart - steal the show.

Lyon also designed the Muppet-style puppets, and it is miraculous how these wide-mouthed, goggle-eyed creatures can be made so poignantly expressive.

This young-at-heart show is good dirty fun.


New York Post
08/01/2003

New York Times: "A Feeling You're Not On Sesame Street"

In the savvy, sassy and eminently likable ''Avenue Q,'' which opened last night at the Golden Theater, an idealistic young man stares into the audience and sings, in a voice shiny with hope, ''Something's coming, something good.''

Feeling some nagging tug of déjà vu? It's entirely possible. Some 40 years ago, another idealistic young man on another Broadway stage sang exactly the same lyrics, and has continued to do so in innumerable revivals ever since.

But that was Tony, the starry-eyed hero of the breakthrough musical ''West Side Story.'' And Tony is not to be confused with Princeton, the starry-eyed hero of ''Avenue Q,'' which is a breakthrough musical of a very different stripe. After fervently anticipating the good things of the future, Tony went on to fall deeply and unconditionally in love, kill his girlfriend's brother and die violently, leaving an exceedingly pretty corpse, all within a matter of days.

Princeton, too, has stars in his eyes. But after he sings about ''something coming,'' he falls kind of, sort of in love (or maybe not); gets lost looking for his purpose in life; lies around moping in his apartment while takeout food cartons pile up; and when last heard from, is still very much alive, though in a continuing state of what looks like terminal uncertainty. And, oh, did I mention? He has two heads. That's literally. Figuratively, he has a lot more.

Ah, what a difference half a century makes when it comes to leading men in American musicals. Tony, originally played by Larry Kert, belonged to an era in theater when sung emotions were big, clean and uncompromising. If you felt pretty, then Miss America could just resign; if you loved somebody, then the whole planet earth turned into a star.

In ''Avenue Q,'' first staged last spring Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theater, Princeton is embodied by both an oversize hand puppet and John Tartaglia, the always visible actor who manipulates Princeton and provides his voice. And he is very clearly part of a generation whose members find question marks creeping into every sentence they utter.

Unlike the self-destructive, street-smart adolescents in ''West Side Story,'' who always seemed about to explode whenever they sang or danced, the overschooled college graduates (some furry, some fleshy) of ''Avenue Q'' look as if they might deflate as they work their way through bouncy ditties about failure, sex and the general pettiness of life.

The role models for Princeton and his sometime girlfriend, Kate Monster (Stephanie D'Abruzzo), and their underemployed chums are not the misunderstood rebels portrayed by James Dean and Marlon Brando, but the gentle, instructive and fallible cloth creatures of ''Sesame Street.''

This does not mean that the denizens of Avenue Q, an imaginary outpost of disenfranchised young New Yorkers, don't have the verve to rule a Broadway stage. Their creators, the songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, demonstrate that ambivalence, indecision and low expectations can be the basis for a thoroughly infectious musical.

If the plot line sometimes seems to sag and wander in the manner of its aimless characters (and its lopsided first act does go on too long), the individual performances and songs are never less than sharply focused and completely committed to the moment.

Even more than ''Rent,'' the only other show on Broadway pitched directly to theatergoers over 12 and under 40, ''Avenue Q'' shimmeringly reflects the sensibility of that demographic segment so coveted by television advertisers. For Broadway producers, who count every head in their audiences that isn't gray as a bonus, ''Avenue Q'' qualifies as a serious blessing.

Like the more abrasive and ambitious ''Jerry Springer: The Opera,'' currently onstage in London, ''Avenue Q'' dares to co-opt television, the theater's longtime adversary. This show, which has a book by Jeff Whitty and is directed by Jason Moore, addresses Americans who were weaned on the small screen, and specifically on the educational antics of friendly anthropomorphic teachers like Big Bird and Cookie Monster.

Mr. Lopez and Mr. Marx know that the songs you hear as a child are unlikely to leave your head entirely, and that whether you like it or not, such tunes and rhymes are likely to keep popping up as frames of reference for situations that on the surface could hardly seem less appropriate.

That's the delicious central conceit that infuses every element of ''Avenue Q,'' from its bright but gritty ''Sesame'' streetscape of a set (designed by Anna Louizos, and deftly scaled up for Broadway) to its archly educational animated segments, which parse words and phrases like ''commitment'' and ''one-night stand'' on video screens on either side of the stage.

But it is in its songs and performances that ''Avenue Q'' plays most piquantly on the contrasts between the world according to children's television and the reality of adult life. The nature of the twinkly songs, unfailingly tuneful and disgustingly irresistible, can be deduced from their titles: ''Everyone's a Little Bit Racist,'' ''Schadenfreude,'' ''The Internet Is for Porn'' and ''You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love).''

To deliver such numbers with any distancing sarcasm would be fatal. And even when their heads are flipping back and forth rhythmically like windshield wipers, the cast members (many of whom have worked in children's television) do not patronize their own perkiness. Irony is a conditioned reflex for these characters, and it doesn't get in the way of their basic sincerity.

Some of the performers have puppets, worn on their arms, for alter egos. (Designed by Rick Lyon, who is also an ensemble member, these sophisticated variations on the sock puppet look much as they did in their downtown incarnations, though I'm told some of their colors have been heightened for the big time.)

Mr. Tartaglia speaks not only for the callow Princeton but also for the buttoned-down broker (and repressed homosexual) Rod, whose more easygoing puppet roommate, Nicky, is portrayed by Mr. Lyon, also the voice for the pornography-loving recluse named Trekkie Monster. Ms. D'Abruzzo's puppetry embraces both the wistful kindergarten teacher Kate and her rival, a bosomy singer named Lucy T. Slut.

Mr. Lyon and Jennifer Barnhart help, er, flesh out the other puppet characters, who include Kate's crotchety employer, who has an unprintable name, and two blissfully obnoxious figures called the Bad Idea Bears, who resemble those hideous Care Bears and are given to tempting the other characters to do things like drink to excess, go home with strangers and consider suicide.

There are also three puppet-free performers who admirably hold their own. Natalie Venetia Belcon plays the jocular superintendent of Princeton's building, who happens to be Gary Coleman, the former child television star, and the perfect emblem for a world in which everyone is, to some degree, a Peter Pan with a five o'clock shadow.

The hearty Jordan Gelber is Brian, the would-be stand-up comedian whose idea of a routine is to sing ''I'm not wearing any underwear today'' over and over. And Ann Harada is his fiancée, Christmas Eve, a Japanese therapist who has not quite mastered English.

Like Princeton, Christmas Eve emerges as a vivid reminder of the difference between musicals past and present. Counseling the romantically troubled Kate, she temporarily drops her habitually pinched voice to deliver, in the show's wittiest coup de théâtre, a full-throated ballad in the manner of a 1950's musical diva.

You may find this song brings to mind another piece of purely American Orientalia, ''Something Wonderful'' from ''The King and I.'' Of course Marx and Lopez see the world in terms slightly different from Rodgers and Hammerstein. ''The more you love someone/The more you want to kill him,'' Christmas sings in a shivery, rafters-shaking alto. And though you can construe the song as a satire if you choose, there is no doubt that Christmas means every word she sings.


New York Times
08/01/2003

Newsday: "'Ave. Q' Stays Street Smart"

Those lipless mouths. Those yam-button noses. Those iconically familiar - but not identical enough for legal action - puppet-people of "Avenue Q" have jumped and/or been pushed to big-time Broadway from their comfy, sold-out, Off-Broadway and at the Vineyard Theatre.

The rude yet benign, wicked yet sweet musical, which opened last night at the Golden Theatre, is virtually the same clean little raunchy puppet show that already captured the downtown hearts of 20-somethings, slackers, would-be slackers and the parents who love them. To our nervous system, the extended two-hour sketch would be sharper if trimmed to a tight 90 minutes without an intermission.

But the affection engendered for this "Sesame Street" homage and parody since last spring demands, clearly, that director Jason Moore not change a hair on Kate Monster's furry face. Done. Anna Louizos' street of friendly old tenements has been stretched a bit to fill the larger stage, hut the pop-open walls, back- up singing pizza boxes and Rick Lyon's amiably invisible puppeteers lose none of their intimacy in the bigger house.

On one level, "Avenue Q" selves as a sort of entry-level musical for overeducated, underemployed college graduates with no prospects but plenty of idealism about making a difference in the world. More universally, at one time or another, most kids of any vintage want to know the way to Sesame Street. Little do they imagine how many will instead find themselves a little farther east from Easy Street - say, into the cheap-rent outer borough that offers Avenue Q.

Newcomers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx have written jaunty music and unflinching lyrics that know their way around the nuance of sunny pop melodies, juxtaposing the lilting jingles with such self-loathing but happy anthems as "It --- to Be Me" and the ever-popular "You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)."

Yes, lonely, ambitions Kate - adorably embodied by Stephanie D'Abruzzo as if the puppet were mind-melded up to her elbow - has hot sex with Princeton - portrayed by the engaging John Tartaglia with a preppy puppet on his forearm. And Nicky, the closeted-gay accountant - imbued with psychological body language by puppetmaster Lyon - even has an erotic dream ballet about his roommate.

Jeff Whitty's book follows the journey of Princeton, the newest arrival on Avenue Q, who wanders onto the only street he can afford in a graduation gown and sings the eternal question, "What do you do with a BA in English?" He joins other residents - human and puppet - most with job hunting on the brain and a smile in their irreverent hearts. Like others who came before him, Princeton is looking for a purpose.

So animated images on hanging TV screens ask, "What's a Purpose?" Even more useful on the screens are the post-coital, gender-specific phonics lesson, the mathematical graphic explaining one- night stand and the lesson on Schadenfreude - pleasure in someone else's pain.

The best example of Schadenfreude is, according to this show, the existence of Gary Coleman. The poor guy's unfortunate career arc has been made into an official sunning gag. In "Avenue Q," he's the building super and played by a woman, Natalie Venetia Belcon, who bats her eyes and gins in caricature homage to yet another stereotype. Ann Harada plays Christmas Eve - this is a neighborhood where names need not be explained - a Japanese social worker whose pronunciation of "L's" and "R's" is another ongoing punchline.

These and other nonchalant taboos lead to one of the best songs, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," sung by all the real people and people-puppets and monster-puppets, who, we learn, are the object of considerable prejudice. Trekkie Monster doesn't often come out of his flat, but will lead most of the group in the catchy "The Internet Is for Porn."

Sure, there is an uplifting message about ethnic and sexual diversity, living for the moment and having interspecies tolerance for monsters. But, best of all, there are two snuggly Bad-Idea Bears, who, with their wide eyes and passive pleasantly, appear from nowhere to encourage everyone who should know better to forget their "higher purposes" and have another Long Island Ice Tea. The bears deserve a sequel.


Newsday
08/01/2003

USA Today: "'Q' takes a witty ride down 'Sesame Street'"

The question posed by a cute puppet named Princeton at the beginning of Avenue Q (* * * 1/2 stars of four) is one that's likely to resonate with a lot of people over age 21: "What do you do with a B.A. in English?”

Though hardly the most profound line in this delightful new musical, which opened Thursday at the John Golden Theatre after an acclaimed off-Broadway run, Princeton's query tips us off that Q is not your average children's show. Nor, for that matter, is it your average parody of a children's show.

Fledgling composer/lyricists Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx originally imagined Q as a Sesame Street satire, complete with a cozy urban setting and accessible songs that aim to both enlighten and entertain. There are even TV monitors above the stage flashing animated, mock-educational vignettes.

But Q offers something more resonant and less snarky than your typical post-adolescent put-on. Though there are moments when Lopez, Marx and librettist Jeff Whitty betray a youthful fondness for winking at their own cleverness, they relay tough lessons with warmth and wit that will disarm the most jaded grown-ups.

Protagonist Princeton, as brought to life by John Tartaglia, one of several puppeteers who juggle numerous cuddly creatures, is a recent college graduate who lands his first apartment in an area populated by struggling young adults - some flesh and blood, some handcrafted. Among the former, there's wannabe comedian Brian and his fiance, Christmas Eve, a therapist who can't keep a client, as well as the landlord, a has been actor named Gary Coleman.

The inclusion of Coleman, gamely played by a tomboyish Natalie Venetia Belcon, is not gratuitous, for an overriding theme of Q is the idea that success and contentment can be fleeting. Yet like other hard truths delivered here, the point is made so affably that it never stings.

Q's often crass, sometimes politically incorrect humor is handled with equal deftness. Songs such as Everyone's a Little Bit Racist send up darker aspects of human nature with refreshing candor and winning insight. There's also a giddy production number called The Internet Is for Porn, led by the lascivious but ultimately lovable Trekkie Monster.

Similar progress is made by Nicky and Rod, a pair of male puppets who room together, a la Ernie and Bert, raising questions about their relationship that are dealt with both comically and poignantly. Princeton's budding romance with the earnest Kate Monster, meanwhile, is complicated by a pair of mischievous bears and the conniving Lucy, a more babe-alicious and decidedly less uptight variation on Miss Piggy.

While good intentions and true love triumph, Avenue Q doesn't conclude on a sentimental note. "Everyone's a little bit unsatisfied," the puppets tell us, but "life goes on." Now there's a lesson worth the cost of a college education.


USA Today
08/04/2003

Variety: "Avenue Q"

Can a merrily disillusioned band of puppets and their human pals from the far East Village find happiness uptown? That's the question facing "Avenue Q," the sweetly sour musical that cleverly co-opts the style of a tyke TV show to animate the aimless lives of underemployed twentysomethings looking for love and fulfillment in New York's outer fringes.

A hit at the Vineyard downtown, the show has made a bold move to Broadway, where its fortunes will depend on luring its target aud -- the 35-and-under generation that spent a good portion of its formative years tranced out in front of the tube -- to the theater district. Getting them to forsake digital cable to shell out $85 for a ticket will be challenge No. 2. The typical Broadway audience may be more bewildered than delighted at the show's smart-alecky conceit, which plays up the disjunction between its tongue-in-cheek preschool tone and R-rated subject matter.

The move to Broadway hasn't brought any major textual changes, although the tech aspects of the production have been subtly enhanced. Anna Louizos' set, a pop-up-book row of tenement facades rendered in aptly grimy detail, has some fancy new bells and whistles attached, and Howell Binkley's lighting is flashier and sharper. The animated segments conceived by composer-lyricist Robert Lopez have more polish, and now are telecast on fancy flat digital screens on the rim of the proscenium. Even the sex quotient has been bumped up for Broadway: The onstage puppet coupling is notably more explicit.

The upgraded presentation serves to underscore the show's pitch-perfect mimicry of its aesthetic models, slickly produced tot-targeted TV shows like "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" that educate and socialize youngsters through songs and stories performed by a mix of human actors and cuddly creatures. That's the basic recipe here, but the show's talented authors, Lopez and Jeff Marx (score) and Jeff Whitty (book), are working with different ingredients. Instead of anodyne little songs and stories about making friends and learning the alphabet, the folks living on Avenue Q sing about the humiliations of being laid off, the indignities of one-night stands, the complications of coming out.

Lopez and Marx can be sharp-witted observers of human foibles, and their cheerily didactic tunes matching peppy melodies with pessimistic lyrics are the show's high points. In act one, a pair of puppets from different races (one human, one monster) agree: "Everyone's a little bit racist sometimes/Doesn't mean we go around committing hate crimes." The second act features an irresistible paean to the pleasures of schadenfreude -- sung with rousing pizzazz by Natalie Venetia Belcon, who plays Gary Coleman, the faded TV star who shows up here as the friendly neighborhood superintendent. "Try being a has-been at age 15!" he gripes before launching into a song celebrating the suffering of others: "D'ja ever clap when a waitress falls/And drops a tray of glasses/And ain't it fun to watch figure skaters/Falling on their asses!"

The performers are remarkably adept at maintaining the chipper, gee-whiz tone that matches the wide smiles and bulging eyes of Rick Lyon's Muppet-style puppets, which retain their adorable qualities even when spewing obscenities. John Tartaglia, who spent eight seasons as a puppeteer and performer on "Sesame Street," is an endearing presence in a pair of central roles. He plays Princeton, a college-grad newcomer to the nabe who breaks the furry heart of Kate Monster, and Rod, an uptight but nelly Republican with a secret crush on his roomie Nicky. Stephanie D'Abruzzo divides her ample vocal talents between good-girl Kate and blowsy blond vamp Lucy T. Slut. Lyon gives voice to Nicky and a couple of other puppet characters.

The cast of principals is rounded out by a couple of nonpuppeteers: Ann Harada, who plays the pidgin-speaking Christmas Eve and brings down the house with her soulful vocalizing on a mock torch song in which she bluntly advises Kate, "The more you love someone, the more you want to kill 'em." (She mixes up all her l's and r's.) Her chronically unemployed fiance is played with goofy cheer by Jordan Gelber.

For all the cast's appealing work, mock cuteness can sometimes be as overbearing as the authentic kind. The format being lovingly lampooned is a necessarily limiting one, particularly in terms of the music, which hews closely to the sing-songy style used to drum little lessons into 4-year-olds' easily distracted ears. Ultimately, the charm in the authors' smart subversion of the saccharine simplicities of kiddie TV shows will wear off earlier for some than others.

But those with fresh memories of the unpleasant realities of early adulthood are taking to the show like a baby to a favorite blanket. Perhaps that's because it quite accurately -- and rather sweetly -- captures the sense of emotional abandonment felt by ambitious kids as they watch their dreams of fame and fortune in the big city slipping away in a tide of credit card bills, temp work and wasted nights out. Such home truths about life's infinite capacity to disappoint aren't quite so hard to take when they are being imparted by -- and to -- brightly colored, fur-covered creatures.


Variety
07/31/2003

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