The concept of rearranging and reinterpreting the score was "the brainchild of the show's bassist, Mary Ann McSweeney. It's her baby," the concert's producer, Jim Caruso, told me. The evening will be a benefit for musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. The normally offhand and hilarious Jim was more serious when we spoke recently, clearly touched by the plight of the storm victims. "We'd already scheduled this event, but decided we had to turn it into a benefit."
Because the Broadway songs had been reimagined in styles similar to the music of New Orleans and the performance had been booked at a jazz mecca, "it seems like all the stars were aligned to do it this way." He didn't mean the stars of the Broadway production, but they've lined up to participate, too. The concept was premiered in a one-night high-ticket event earlier this year with singers who were not, except one, part of the cast. This time, the usual residents of Avenue Q get a chance at jazzing up the songs.
What's it like having to forget the way the material is done night after night and learn a vastly different version? "It's incredibly hard to learn," original cast member Ann Harada laughs. "A different style, a different tempo than we're used to. But it gives us a chance to branch out, using our chops in a different way." She is especially impressed with how the song "A Fine, Fine Line" has a different musical and emotional effect in its new, contemplative tempo and orchestration. "I find it more wistful. It seems the character has more distance from the hurt," she remarks.
Ann is excited not only about the refashioning of the music, but about who is singing what. "A lot of us are going to do each other's songs." She's always up for a challenge, such as when she first learned that in the show she'd have to do a bit of a rap. Aside from having fun, being able to help the Katrina victims "in some small way" means a lot to her. "New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. I've visited there several times and I'd always gone to the jazz clubs."
Like all those involved, Ann is honored to help raise money for the charities, The Jazz Foundation of America and The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic. The money raised by the $25 cover charge will go to displaced musicians' immediate needs: finding temporary and long-term housing, health care, clothing and replacing musical instruments lost in the flood.
Stephanie D'Abruzzo is the one cast member who was also in the earlier Avenue Q Swings concert and is happily returning for another go. Also performing in the concert will be Avenue Q players Christian Anderson and Barrett Foa, singers Karen Mason and Christine Pedi, plus a likely surprise guest.
Many of our readers have expressed concern about helping individual artists affected by the tragedy, and this is one of many ways to contribute and also have a great time. Avenue Q remains a favorite attraction, and it's intriguing to hear what happens when the songs take a different musical avenue.
Avenue Q Swings is at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, NYC this Monday, October 3rd at 7:00 PM. For reservations, call 212-581-3080 or visit www.instantseats.com/birdland. There is a $25 cover + $10 food/drink minimum for this event.