Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005

Villager photo by Talisman Brolin

Bobby Lopez with one of the well-worn Steinways at Greenwich House Music School, where he honed his musical skills. Lopez will participate in an “Avenue Q” benefit on June 27 to raise money for two new grand pianos.

‘Avenue Q’ creator goes back to roots to give back

By Johanna Petersson

Bobby Lopez is a self-proclaimed Village kid. He spent his high school afternoons at Café Reggio and Café Dante on MacDougal St. For his recent success with the Tony Award-winning “Avenue Q” musical he praises the neighborhood institution Greenwich House Music School, where he studied piano for more than 15 years. The tremendous reception of the musical seems never ending, as it is opening in both Las Vegas and London shortly. But before conquering the rest of the world, Lopez decided to give something back to the place where it all started, Greenwich House Music School.

“The Greenwich House has been a tremendously important part of my life,” he said. “I wrote my first song there, ‘Oh Vey What a Day,’ and it really started my path to comedy and music. They were so over and above supportive and it is a great, great place, and they have done this for a lot of people. When I heard they needed help with replacing their two well-worn Steinways, I jumped at the chance to help with anything that can benefit the school,” said Lopez.

In “Avenue Q,” musical puppets have sex, find their purpose in life, rent their first apartments and come out of the closet. “Avenue Q” is named after a fictional street, the only place where you can afford to rent in New York City straight out of college, and the musical could be best be described as “Friends” meets “South Park” meets “Sesame Street” with a twist of “Hello Dolly.” The characters, which their creators say are loosely based on them, express their fear of the real world and their inner longing in the song “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.”

When Lopez was a struggling artist, fresh out of college himself and living with his parents, Greenwich House Music School gave him a job as a Saturday receptionist. And when he and his creative partner Jeff Marx needed a change of scene where they knew they wouldn’t bother anyone, they went to the music school, and it was there that much of the score of “Avenue Q” was written.

Lopez attributes much of “Avenue Q” ’s appeal to its modernity and the fact that he, Marx and Jeff Whitty consciously tried to do a musical not only for habitual Broadway theatergoers but for everyone. Lopez is proud of the diverse following of the musical, yet notes that their star puppet that is in all the show’s ads is the closeted Republican investment banker.

“We do have a strong gay following and Rod has become our star puppet,” Lopez noted. “I wouldn’t have thought so, but at the same time, he is such a flamboyant character. A lot of the people that I worked on with the show are gay; Jeff Marx, Jeff Whitty. But the reason for including a gay character is because it’s reality; it’s the reality of New York.”

The director of the music school was one of the first persons to hear parts of the musical score as it developed right next to his office in the main room of the music school. “I didn’t monitor them, but sure I heard it develop,” said B.C. Vermeersch, Greenwich House Music School’s director. He said he’s not surprised by the offbeat musical’s success. “It taps into people’s thinking,” said Vermeersch. They [Lopez and Marx] understand what kids growing up in contemporary America are concerned about. Their songs have names such as ‘What Should I Do With a B.A. in English,’ ‘Everyone Is a Little Bit Racist,’ ‘The Internet Is for Porn.’ It’s just really, really funny.”

To support the school’s piano fund, the creative team of “Avenue Q” will host “Avenue Q Swings,” a one-night-only benefit with artists at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, at 121 Christopher St., on Mon. June 27 at 7:30 p.m. In addition to Lopez and Marx, other stars appearing will include Mark Shaiman, Billy Stritch, Toxic Audio, Billy Porter, Sherie Rene Scott, Tom Wopat, Christine Pedi, Sally Mayes, Karen Mason and the Q Trio, who will perform the songs of “Avenue Q” in jazz, classical and other surprising arrangements.

Tickets are $150 and $250 ($75 tickets are sold out). For information about the event, call 212-242-4770.

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