Atlanta Art Reviews by Susan K Asher
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‘Avenue X’ Doesn’t Mark the Spot

2010 January 27
Photo: Greg Mooney; L to R: Jeremy Cohen, Rebecca Blouin, Steve French, Lawrence Clayton, Neda Spears, J.D. Goldblatt

L to R: Jeremy Cohen, Rebecca Blouin, Steve French, Lawrence Clayton, Neda Spears, J.D. Goldblatt, Photo: Greg Mooney

When I heard about the new doo-wop show,  “Avenue X,” at the Alliance Theatre, I hoped one thing: Please don’t be an imitation of the doo-wop musical “Jersey Boys,” because it could never compete.

Sadly, it feels like it’s riding the wave of that very same show with borrowed themes from other musicals. But whereas every scene in “Jersey Boys” moves the story forward and the traveling casts are dynamic, the scenes lag in “Avenue X,”  and some actors lack passion and credibility.

While the cast is OK, there are a few top-quality performances. Lawrence Clayton (Roscoe) has some great moments, and Neda Spears (Julia) sings a dynamic solo. But when you look at the play as a whole, you wish you didn’t have to.

If you’re wondering what’s the plot and where is the action in the script, I don’t know.  To summarize, the year is 1963. A woman, her lover, and her teenage son leave Harlem and become the first black family in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. A little spin off “West Side Story” and, you guessed it, there’s a tussle between the black family and the Italian teenage boys.

Music brings them together. At one point they meet and compete singing five songs  in a row, improvising their soul inspired, doo-wop tunes with one strong bass voice from Ubazz (Steve French), whose sound is reminscent of “Bauzer” of Sha Na Na.

Five songs in a row with no action in between them might not be so boring if the songs moved the story forward or if they were outstanding tunes. But they don’t and they aren’t. Then there’s that Mickey Rooney plot: Gee fellas, let’s put on a show. Except in “Avenue X” the teens come together to enter a singing contest.

If the music were great instead of mediocre, it might have made this show enjoyable. As for the story line, you’d think at the end there would be some sort of resolution to this discord between the two groups. Either they would decide to continue to fight each other or they would unite. No thoughts on how to end this story other than killing off a main character? Gee fellas, let’s sing another song!

If you’re a fan of doo-wop, “Avenue X” might be for you. If you’re looking for a play with substance, continual action and an energetic cast, it probably isn’t.

“Avenue X,” with book and lyrics by John Jiler and music by Ray Leslee, runs at the Alliance Theatre through Feb. 7.

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. Liz Hovey permalink
    February 4, 2010

    Sadly, Susan, you must have been tired when you came to the theater and didn’t pay much attention. I thought this story was about people driven by the love of music to bring the best out of their musical traditions and keep bringing them forward. I enjoyed the musical rivalry between the two groups a lot -thought it was full of the kind of action that makes life, life. I didn’t come for the doo-wop and had a great time.

    Errors: my program showed me the show was written BEFORE the Jersey Boys, so doesn’t that make it hard for it to be a copy? You somehow got the idea that one family was trying to integrate Brooklyn? I always thought that “the projects” held more than one family, which is why someone talks about the Italians protesting them going up.

    This show doesn’t claim to be about big names, but the overlooked 2nd and 3rd tier musicians who never get more than their subway fare – just like the 2010 Grammy presenters were talking about 3 nights ago. I guess you’re going to say that Avenue X copied them too.

  2. February 4, 2010

    Hi Liz,

    My friend, a playwright, and I were not tired when we came, but we were both tired of the show midway through the first act. B-O-R-I-N-G.

    I never said one family was trying to integrate Brooklyn. I felt that this family was trying to move out of Harlem, essentially “movin’ on up” like George Jefferson.

    I’m glad you found a point to the show. At least somebody did.

    My guess, and the surmise of others I’ve talked to, is that the Alliance Theatre, with its dedication to diversity, chose this show to attract a diverse crowd. Sometimes the Alliance sacrifices substance to do that.

    No, I don’t think this show was about 2nd or 3rd tier talent. That, however, is what the audience got.

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