Seen on Broadway:

Avenue Q

is now a piece of prime Midtown real estate, as the musical of that name has just transferred to Broadway. The good news is, this clever spoof of twentysomething angst plays even better in a bigger theatre. Librettist Jeff Whitty and songwriters Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx have dreamt up an alternative universe governed by the aesthetic laws of Sesame Street, where humans and puppets live side-by-side in a gritty urban environment, making friends and learning valuable life lessons. However, the friends include slackers; closeted gays; a big, furry pervert, and Gary Coleman, now reduced to handyman status after being cheated out of his TV earnings by his greedy parents. And the lessons are about racism, homophobia, one-night stands, internet porn, joblessness and other facts of life. The song list includes such titles as “If You Were Gay,” “You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love)”, and, my personal favorite, “Schadenfreude.” What could have been unbearably cutesy and self-congratulatory is delightful, thanks to Jason Moore’s skilled direction and the pitch-perfect cast (many of whom are also dandy puppeteers). Special mention goes to John Tartaglia in two roles, as the feckless college grad Princeton, and closest-case Rod, and Stephanie D’Abruzzo, double-cast as the winsome heroine Kate Monster and the devastating mantrap Lucy the Slut. Some of the biggest laughs come from Ann Harada as the perpetually unemployed, tough-talking Japanese therapist with the unlikely name of Christmas Eve. Anna Louizos’ set, an outer-borough version of Sesame Street, is a festival of gritty textures and materials, and is also filled with witty surprises. Mirena Rada’s costumes are often amusing-love that light--up wedding gown for Christmas Eve! New to the design team are Howell Binkley, who adds some moving lights and a bit of Broadway sparkle, and Acme Sound Partners, doing their usual impeccable job. Avenue Q looks like the Broadway season’s first substantial hit. I hereby nominated “Schadenfreude” to become the official anthem of Broadway.

Avenue Q Photo: Carol Rosegg

Seen Off Broadway: You know it’s August when I’m going down to PS 122 to see two women in a play about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; amazingly, I found myself laughing a lot. In Matt & Ben Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers are the two stars before their Oscar-winning triumph. In fact, as the play begins, they’re lamely trying make a screenplay from The Catcher in the Rye by copying out the book, scene for scene. Then, out of the blue, arrives the script of Good Will Hunting--with their names on it. What to do? Kaling and Withers, who also wrote the script, have fun with this dilemma, depicting the conflict between Damon, here revealed as ferociously ambitious and Affleck, depicted as a cheerful loser who also gets the ladies. Under the facile-but-funny jokes about J. Lo, Minnie Driver, and the movie School Ties, there are even some interesting points about the war between ambition and friendship. At the end of the day, however, this is really a clever 70-minute sketch deconstructing filmdom’s most famous pair of good buds. Kaling resembles Affleck not at all, but is gifted with sharp timing; she also makes the most of a brief appearance as Gwyneth Paltrow (When offered something to eat she says, “Never touch the stuff.”). Withers actually resembles Damon and also appears as J. D. Salinger, who drops in long enough to announce that he has sold the film rights of Catcher in the Rye to John Woo. David Warren’s direction keeps the gags coming, and James Youman’s comically dilapidated set, Jeff Croiter’s lighting, Fitz Patton’s sound, and Anne Sung’s costume are all in the spirit of things. Matt & Ben is minor but potent fun; Kaling and Withers should be expecting a call soon--not, like Matt and Ben, from Columbia Pictures, but from, say, Comedy Central.

Matt and Ben Photo: Robert Zash

Heard in Las Vegas: Kelley Communications, a Las Vegas-based company, has been busy at The Palms Hotel and Casino, and is also taking a gamble on the Indian casino business. In addition to a recent Wi-Fi network update at The Palms, Kelley also recently installed an RF camera system that links a handheld remote camera (Panasonic AG-DVC200 1/2" DV Proline Camcorder) used at the Skin poolside night club to an AutoPatch Modula Series 20x24 (20 inputs x 24 outputs) video switcher that takes any source input such as DVD, VCR, or camera, and can then switch it to any output such as a TV, plasma, or projector. The Modula switcher is located in the nightclub Rain In The Desert, where it can be switched to three projectors outside at Skin; to the Rain video system; or into the entire main casino video system. Via a fiber optic link, the camera's images can be viewed on the Race and Sports Book video switcher, where they can be fed to the main reader board, an LED sign in front of the hotel, and also to the casino floor TV system. The company that supplied the equipment is Avalon RF, who also helped with the install and some troubleshooting. Outside of Las Vegas, Kelley is rolling the dice with the Indian Nations, and is currently involve in projects at numerous casinos including three in California: Morongo Indian Casino in Palm Springs; Cache Creek in Brooks; and Pechanga in Temecula, as well as Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Kelley is also involved in an expansion project at The Palms, for a second tower with additional clubs whose special effects are reportedly quite extraordinary.