The Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q remains as sharp and funny at its new Off-Broadway home at New World Stages as it did in its previous incarnations at the Vineyard Theatre and Broadway’s Golden Theatre. Indeed, the show’s clever score (by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez) and book (by Jeff Whitty) — about a motley group of New York residents facing life’s challenges together — continue to delight, and director Jason Moore’s production still sparkles.
Much of the credit for the current production’s success is due to the performances of Seth Rettberg, who has assumed the roles of neighborhood newbie Princeton and closeted Republican banker Rod, and Anika Larsen, who is playing sweet kindergarten teacher Kate Monster (as well as blousy lounge singer Lucy The Slut). The two actors not only share an extraordinary chemistry — even as they manipulate the puppets many theatergoers have come to know so well — but Larsen also brings a much-needed vulnerability to the role of Kate.
In addition, Rettberg and Larsen deftly deliver the comedy when they switch over to their more broadly-written roles of Rod and Lucy. Rettberg is particularly adept with Rod’s pissier moods, while Larsen seems to revel in Lucy’s sultry Mae West-like vamping. What might be most impressive about these two performers’ turns is the precision with which they shift between characters and the puppets that represent them.
Alongside Rettberg and Larsen are a quintet of onstage performers who are all delivering first-rate performances. With his spiky hair and a decidedly mischievous and dopey grin, Cullen R. Titman brings the lecherous Trekkie Monster to life with aplomb and proves equally funny as Rod’s slovenly and good-hearted roommate Nicky. Maggie Lakis, who also assists Rettberg and Larsen when their respective characters are on stage concurrently, gets to shine in her own right periodically as one of the two “Bad Idea Bears” who appear to Princeton, urging him to make foolish and poor choices.
As the non-puppet denizens of the street, Nicholas Kohn brings a nicely sardonic quality to the role of wannabe comedian Brian, and Sala Iwamatsu, who looks a bit like a stereotypical and idealized geisha, adds a welcome chilliness to the role of his wife, Christmas Eve. Finally, Danielle K. Thomas nails the signature traits that are necessary for playing superintendent (and former child star) Gary Coleman and has a powerful voice that knocks a couple of Lopez and Marx’ tunes out of the house.
Anna Louizos’ grimy streetscape — which accommodates a surprising number of smaller interior scenes — has made the shift into the new theater with ease, and the sound design from Acme Sound Partners, although mixed a little too shrilly initially, ultimately provides a great balance between the onstage performers and the offstage band. It’s just what’s necessary to enjoy the spirited — and still hilarious — score of this spirited and still hilarious musical.