Shameless plugs: `Jersey’ Vegas, SF Int’l Arts Fest

The boys of Jersey Boys in Las Vegas: from left: Erich Bergen, Rick Faugno, Jeremy Kushnier and Jeff Leibow in the production at the Palazzo. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Since leaving my illustrious career as a newspaper theater critic/editor in March, I’ve been doing some freelancing. Now you, gentle reader, get to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

In today’s Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times travel section you’ll find a story I did for them about the Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys at the Palazzo Hotel. In true Bay Area News Group fashion, the first part of the story is missing on the Web. Here’s the link anyway: At the bottom of the story is my list of Top 5 best bets for the Las Vegas theatergoer.

And here’s what’s missing from the top of the story:

Oh, what a night! `Jersey Boys’ hits Vegas’ plush Palazzo
By Chad Jones
Every time you think you know Las Vegas, the city spins the dice in another direction.
First it’s a curious desert getaway. Then it’s the ring-a-ding Rat Pack capital of the world. Then it’s cheap and sleazy. Next thing you know it’s an adult theme park full of swanky hotels, hip clubs and hot restaurants.
Now it’s all of the above plus world-class shopping, aging ’70s superstars and Broadway musicals.
There’s just no place like Vegas (mercifully), and the town just keeps evolving.
The newest resort-casino on the strip is the 50-story Palazzo, which officially opened last January, a sister hotel to the Venetian next door, and its adjunct tower, Venezia. All together, this trio of resorts boasts 7,066 rooms, all suites, making it one of the world’s biggest resorts.
The Palazzo is aiming to be the next level of Vegas accommodation, and with the opening of “Jersey Boys,” the hit musical, earlier this month in the Palazzo’s theater, the hotel is positioning itself as a destination for the discerning Vegas visitor.
Even compared to the Venetian, with its heavy-duty Italian-themed canal boat ride and slavishly re-created St. Mark’s Square at the center of its Grand Canal Shoppes mall, the Palazzo is different.


For Theatre Bay Area magazine, I wrote a feature on the San Francisco International Arts Festival (continuing through June 8). Read it here in its entirety, nothing missing (thanks, TBA!):

And, as ever, thank you for reading. — Chad

access vegas logo

One more Las Vegas note before moving on:

I wish I had known about before my trip last week.

CEO/Managing Editor Ted Newkirk has built up quite a little online Vegas empire with a newsletter (definitely worth checking out).

The site has reviews, hotel deals, ticket deals and, most helpfully, a monthly schedule of what’s playing and where. That’s especially helpful to determine if you’ll be seeing Bette Midler, Cher or Elton John at the Colosseum at Caesar’s.

That reminds me of a funny Vegas moment in the elevator at the Palazzo. Some high school students were talking about what they should go see. The boy said Jersey Boys, and the girl said, “No, please.” Then the boy suggested Bette Midler, to which a scruffy dude in the corner of the elevator chimed in: “Ugh. She’s terrible. You gotta see Cher.” Delighted to know straight guys are still diggin’ the queen of the gypsies, tramps and thieves.

Anyway, back to — check it out before you head to Sin City. You won’t be sorry.

Live from Las Vegas: `Jersey Boys’ opening night bash

What a party! You expect big things in Las Vegas, and that’s what you get.

The Palazzo put on quite a show before and after the show as Jersey Boys officially opened on May 3, becoming the first show at the Palazzo hotel, which officially opened last January.

The requisite red carpet arrivals saw the surviving Four Seasons — Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio and Tommy DeVito, along with producer Bob Crewe — as well as a few celebrities, including John Cleese, Michael Urie (of “Ugly Betty” fame) and Willie Garson (of “Sex and the City” fame) as well as some Vegas celebs: Rita Rudner, Wayne Brady and John O’Hurley (in the soon-to-close Spamalot).

The most moving moment of the evening was when the real Four Seasons went on stage at the curtain call to take a bow with their musical theater counterparts. Read about that and see a photo in my review below.

The opening-night party, held in one of the Palazzo/Venetian airplane hangar-like ballrooms, was a scene. Classic ’60s cars, complete with go-go dancers, adorned the corners of the room where the food tables were, and in the center of the room, like an air traffic control tower, also complete with go-go dancers, was the DJ.

Opening night also happened to be Frankie Valli’s 74th birthday, so when the onstage Four Seasons — Erich Bergen, Rick Faugno, Jeremy Kushnier and Jeff Leibow — arrived at the party, they announced Valli’s birthday then sang a beautiful four-part harmony version of “Happy Birthday to You.” After the stage was cleared, the back “wall” of the ballroom came swooshing down to reveal a dance floor and a stage adorned with — you guessed it! — go-go dancers grooving to a ’60s beat.

Here are some photos of Valli’s birthday tribute:

At the party I ran into Jeff Leibow (who plays Nick Massi) and his lovely wife, Melody, both formerly residents of East Palo Alto and now Las Vegans. They looked fantastic:

I also ran into Joyce Chittick, who plays multiple roles, including Frankie’s wife. Her real-life love is Rick Faugno, who happens to play Frankie. I’ve known Joyce since she was in high school (my mother was her high school principal at Sparks High School), when she performed in a top-notch performance choir called Skyfire. She and Rick were beaming, and rightfully so. They’re in a hit show, and they’re both superb in it.

Live from Las Vegas! `Jersey Boys’

Opened May 3 at the Palazzo Las Vegas

OK, so technically we’re not “live” in Las Vegas anymore (6:05 a.m. flight from LV to SFO – ouch). But given that it feels like I’m still at the opening-night party of Jersey Boys at the Venetian (next door to the Palazzo, where the show actually resides), I feel as live as is humanly possible.

There’s only good news for fans of Jersey Boys. The show has not been Vegas-ized. The creative team, headed by director Des McAnuff has been creative about making cuts and getting the show down to a brisk 2 hours and 10 minutes. The biggest cut is in the intermission, which here is called a “pause.” At the end of Act 1, after the reprise of “Walk Like a Man,” the audience is instructed via a projection that they have eight minutes do with what they please. Now, eight minutes is not a lot of time to run to the restroom or the bar (especially for slower-moving folks), so the wise people simply stand up, chat and watch the projections on the giant video screens (projections of a cross-country tour circa 1964, including footage of a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and a glimpse of the Transamerica Pyramid-less San Francisco skyline).

Co-writers Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman have artfully trimmed their book here and there, but only purists (and there are plenty of them out there!) will notice. All the songs are there, albeit some of them have also been shortened (not detrimentally and none of the big Four Seasons numbers are noticeably shorter).

Act 1 does feel rushed at times, though audiences will likely appreciate getting through the early stages of the Four Seasons’ development so they can get to the meaty hits such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” “My Eyes Adored You” and “Dawn (Go Away).” Act 2 feels more like it did at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco.

Speaking of the Curran, I must say the theater at the Palazzo, which seats 1,700, is quite nice, if unadorned. The sound system, which is what really counts, is phenomenal and is a great improvement over the Curran’s.

The cast, a blend of the casts we saw in San Francisco (but primarily comprised of the performers we saw last fall), is more than up to the high standards we Bay Area fans are used to. The sad news is that John Altieri, whose primary role is producer Bob Crewe, had to leave the cast for health reasons, and his role is now being played by John Salvatore, who’s terrific.

The Four Seasons have meshed nicely. Rick Faugno, who we first saw in the role of Joe Pesci with the first national tour, has really grown into the central role of Frankie Valli. His voice – already strong – has gotten even better and smoother, and dramatically, he’s spot on, especially in his scenes with Joyce Chittick as Frankie’s wife, Mary. Their “My Eyes Adored You” post-break-up scene packs a wallop.

Erich Bergen, also from the first national tour, has evolved as Bob Gaudio, the musical mastermind (with Crewe) of the Four Seasons sound. Bergen is a charmer and a fine singer. He’s also extremely tall, so to say his talent is giant seems fairly accurate.

Jeremy Kushnier, from the second San Francisco cast (the one that headed to Chicago), makes the somewhat despicable character of Tommy DeVito not only appealing but somewhat understandable. He’s not necessarily a bad guy. He sort of means well and just lets his ego do its dirty work. Kushnier’s performance is incisive, and his section as narrator (each of the Four Seasons takes a turn narrating) crackles with New Jersey wit.

Last but not least is the Bay Area’s own Jeff Leibow as Nick Massi, the “Ringo” of the Four Seasons as he says toward the end. Leibow was in the final San Francisco cast (rumored to be the Vegas cast, which turned out only partly to be true), and though he was strong then, he’s even better now. Nick’s mostly contained emotions register more now, and his explosion – geared mainly toward Tommy – is seismic.

The nine-piece band, headed by Keith Thompson, sounds sharp, and Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is as smooth and sexy as ever.

Now that I’ve seen Jersey Boys five times (which is nothing compared to the real fans), I feel it’s necessary to mention the Jersey Girls every time. The three women in the show play all the women in the show, and they work really hard. The expert Chittick is joined by the multitalented Natalie Bradshaw and Julia Krohn in making sure the men don’t completely take over the show.

(above from left) Real life Jersey Boys meet Las Vegas Jersey Boys during the curtain call on opening night at the Palazzo: John Salvatore and Bob Crewe, Bob Gaudio and Erich Bergen, Frankie Valli and Rick Faugno, Jeremy Kushnier and Tommy DeVito and Jeff Leibow.

As has become the custom for a big opening night, the surviving Seasons show up for the curtain call and hug the actor who played them. The Vegas opening was no different. After the rousing closer of “Who Loves You,” Faugno introduced the surviving guys: Valli, Gaudio and DeVito as well as producer Crewe, who all took the stage. DeVito, who is dramatically banished to Las Vegas in the show, still lives in Sin City, and I had to wonder what it was like for him to sit through this show yet again and hear about what a slime bag crook he is – but now in his hometown. But then again, I have to wonder what it’s like for Valli and Gaudio, too, to relive those moments in their past over and over again. They’re probably inured to it now, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for Valli to have to repeatedly watch his stage self go through the death of his daughter Francine.

But at the curtain call in Vegas, it was all smiles. DeVito seemed as robust as ever, and I was only disappointed that Joe Pesci, who was also in the audience, didn’t get to go on stage and hug the actor (Jonathan Gerard Rodriguez) who played him.

As beautifully and as expertly as this show is put together, and with so many great songs and performances, Jersey Boys is mighty satisfying and sets a new standard for musical theater in Las Vegas.

For information about Jersey Boys at the Palazzo, visit



Live from Las Vegas: `Blue Man Group’

Second night of the Theater Dogs Vegas adventure took us to Blue Man Group at the Venetian next door, and I have to say, I wasn’t overly impressed. Can a Vegas show full of so many bells and whistles really be boring?

Maybe boring is too strong a word, but there are dull stretches in this nearly 100-minute show involving the three blue men of the title wandering into the audience and not doing much while video cameras capture their so-called exploits. During a lengthy audience participation moment (the blond woman dragged up on stage the night we were there was a tremendous good sport and even at the Twinkie Light placed before her), the comedy proceeded to diminishing returns.

Unlike Stomp, where the message is simple and clear, (rhythm good, music everywhere), Blue Man belies its performance art roots and is sorty of brainy, obtuse and downright bizarre. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its elements of humor (of the silent movie variety as the performers utter not a word, though there is narration about plumbing, the interior of the eye and other assorted oddities). Shoving marshmallows into one’s mouth, chomping on Cap’n Crunch cereal, spewing edible grossness from the valve in one’s chest, splashing about in colored water — it’s all vaguely amusing without ever being involving.

The big finale, with the avalanche of paper moving from the back of the theater to the stage is fun, and with the big tubes and wires twirling above the audience and the seven-piece band raging away, recalls a rave minus the mind-altering substances.

I kept waiting for the show to get into gear and show us something really good, but that moment, when it finally arrived, was brief and didn’t even involve the bald blue men in the black suites. The dazzling moment in this show is a piece of live animation involving spinning tables full of figures that, while spinning under strobe lights, appear to be doing a primitive dance.

A bit about a male volunteer pulled from the audience and turned, unceremoniously, upside down and flung, paint-covered, at a blank canvas, feels phony and totally unnecessary.

Blue Man Group certainly succeeds in bringing a little New York avant garde to the Vegas masses (and our Friday-night audience seemed to eat it up), but I’d rather see the high art of Cirque du Soleil or the low art of Stomp. Or, really, what I’d like while I’m in Vegas, is to see Donn Arden’s Jubilee! again. As the billboards say, the venerable early ’80s showgirl spectacular is “the reasons rhinestones were invented.” Give me a cheesy soundtrack, feathers, sparkles, Bob Mackie costumes and the sinking of the Titanic any day. You can keep your blue guys.

For information about Blue Man Group in Las Vegas visit

Live from Las Vegas! “Stomp Out Loud”

Yes, Theater Dogs is on the road. We’re in Las Vegas for the opening of Jersey Boys, one of our favorite shows.

So we decided to come a few days early, drink in the wonders of the Palazzo (the hotel where JB is housed and a sister hotel to the Venetian). Gorgeous suite rooms. Ours has a view of Steve Wynn’s golf course next door (and of the Las Vegas Monorail, which can’t help but remind me of Disneyland — oh, if only Disney were in charge of Vegas!).

So last night we ambled down the Strip to the Planet Hollywood hotel to see Stomp Out Loud. Now I had seen Stomp multiple times when it ran and ran at San Francisco’s Marines Memorial Theatre. I even got to rehearse with one of the casts and learn a couple of the routines (involving brooms, barrels, garbage can lids and swinging from the junk walls).

The Vegas version of Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas’ enduring hit is, as you might expect, bigger and better than your average Stomp. Yes, they’ve got all the requisite elements: the broom symphony, the feet attached to metal drums, the unbelievable energy. But everything is now amped up a few notches — not crazily, mind you, but enough to compete with the Cirques and the ’70s superstars (Bette Midler is off this week and Cher doesn’t start til next week, and who knows what Elton John is up to — is Las Vegas where the ’70s go to die?).

The cast is still the most diverse you’re likely to see — diverse in sex, ethnicity, body type — and that defining Stomp-ness, that rhythm is an undeniable part of our humanity and that if you bang on anything artfully enough, it turns into music.

The star of the show, at least the night we saw it, is Cam Newlin, a hefty Iowa native and graduate of my two favorite schools: Reno High School and the University of Nevada, Reno, and he’s a marvel, a walking percussive genius who makes music in everything he does. He gets comic support from Leilani Dibble and a cast that translates their musical and dance ability into an irresistible fusion of high-energy fun. This is spectacle without fuss. It’s real, it’s elemental and it’s got a beat that simply can’t be beat.

In Vegas terms, it’s a nice antidote to the “high art” of all the Cirque du Soleil shows, where there’s a huge space between performer and audience (artistically and physically). Stomp Out Loud is down and dirty, rhythmic in all the right ways and funny without pandering. Can’t ask for more than that in a city of such excess.

For information about Stomp Out Loud in Las Vegas, visit the official site here.

New York fantasy

I’m not going anywhere at the moment (except Las Vegas for the opening of Jersey Boys later this week — hope to be blogging live if technology cooperates, but if not, check in on Sunday afternoon).

Where I’d most like to go, of course, is New York to visit friends and SEE BROADWAY SHOWS! It’s been about a year since my last trip, and you might say I’m jonesing for the Great White Way. And there’s so much to see at the moment.

Below you’ll find my list of most desirable shows. If you’ve seen any and care to comment, I’d love to hear from you and share your thoughts with other Theater Dogs (you can comment on the blog or e-mail me directly at

August: Osage County
South Pacific
Sunday in the Park with George
A Catered Affair
Passing Strange
In the Heights

It’s amazing that #1 and #3 are golden oldies that have new life on Broadway, and #1 and #4 are both Sondheim-related. I’m dying to see Passing Strange again — it was so good at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I’d love to see how the show has evolved and how it plays for a Broadway audience. It’s actually thrilling that, in spite of the big-ticket revivals, that four out of seven shows on my list are actually new work.

More with Manilow

For my full interview with Barry Manilow see below or click here.

In our conversation, he talked about being a guest coach on “American Idol”: “Most young people sing to their eyelids,” he said. “The yclose their eyes and show their voice off. I’ve never been able to do that. I’ve always needed a theatrical situation in my imagination. I think that’s what the audience is getting. They know something is happening onstage. They don’t know what or why they’re being sucked in when I sing “Somewhere Down the Road” or “When October Goes.” They know I’m not singing to my eyelids, that’s for sure. If more pop singers approached their music and performance like that, they might have a longer career.

His 2001 concept album “Here at the Mayflower” was all about a New York apartment building and its various inhabitants. Some have suggested the album might make a good stage musical. Manilow’s response: “I’d be the first person to say, `Sure, go do it.’ But I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t write it for the stage. When you write a stage musical, that’s not the way you do it. Musicals have a separate batch of rules from albums. But if someone was interested, I’d say do it.”

After he “drops these one-nighters,” as he puts it, which means finishing the series of concerts he’s donig around the country (like the one Feb. 15 in San Jose), Manilow will finish recording his “Greatest Songs of the ’80s” album with producer Clive Davis, and he’ll head back to the Las Vegas Hilton, where his Music and Passion show is a big hit. He says the show will be re-vamped after the summer. “Vegas has been thrilling,” he said. “It’s been a big learning experience. After the fans stopped coming after the first six months, they were just people. Some of them didnt’ know what the heck they were doing there. I really love it. You have to really work. If you get a standing ovation there, they really mean it. When we re-vamp the show, it will be more hit oriented. We wound up promoting the `Decades’ albums, and the audiences loved it, but it got in the way of my own music. It’ll be more hits in the fall.”

On that upcoming ’80s album: “We’ve started putting some songs down. And you know, I think I’m OK with them. I thought my style of music, my voice, would have ended in the ’70s. I think I can do these songs.”

Barry Manilow: He came and he gave without taking

It’s a miracle that even now, Barry Manilow is writing the songs that make, if not the whole world, at least a fair portion of it sing. Could it be magic?

Magic had nothing to do with it. Try hard work, dogged persistence and thousands of “Fanilows’ who can’t smile without him.

Yes, Barry Manilow is still going strong, more than 30 years since his first hit, “Mandy,” unveiled the Manilow musical formula: big, heart-on-the-sleeve ballads sung with utmost sincerity and some good, old-fashioned show-biz brio.

Just when you think the time has finally come for Manilow to fade into pop history, he shows up with a surprise hit album, an appearance on “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” or a long-running hit show in Vegas.

The man never rests. He’s 61 and riding yet another crest of popularity from his three “Greatest Songs of…” albums that have him warbling tunes from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. His show at the Las Vegas Hilton, Music and Passion, has just been extended for another year. He has two DVD sets out — a concert promoting the ’70s album (seen last month on PBS) and a box set of his ’70s and ’80s TV specials.

Though his concert tours have been curtailed by the Vegas show, Manilow is doing a few one-night stops around the country, and he’ll make a rare Bay Area performance Feb. 15 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.

On the road, shuttling from one gig to another, Manilow checks in by phone and says that although his last Bay Area appearance was nearly 10 years ago (also in San Jose), he loves the area.

“I remember playing there in 1973,” he says. “It was a small nightclub. Bette (Midler) had just been there…the Boarding House. It was sort of a hippie nightclub. I got my first taste of the Bay Area audience there, and these people are smart. They don’t suffer fools gladly. I’ve gotten away with a lot of being cute and telling cornball jokes. Can’t do that up there. They want real music, and I have the real music. I didn’t need to do anything but be truthful and make music I believed in.”

Broadway baby

Manilow has been the butt of many a joke. When you’re as popular as he is — last year he was honored for career album sales of more than 75 million copies worldwide — you’re going to peeve the purists.

Still, Manilow has been able to keep his sense of humor and his perspective. He has done his own thing and made forays into jazz (“2 a.m. Paradise Cafe”), show tunes (“Show Stoppers”) and standards (“Manilow Sings Sinatra”). He’s even written two musicals. More on that in a minute.

Whatever music he’s working on — and this is likely a key to his success — Manilow communicates emotion clearly and cleanly. He’s a born musical storyteller.

“I try to sing as if I’m continuing talking,” he says. “I try to make the audience not know the difference between when I finish talking and when I begin to sing. Then, what I do, in my lyrics when I perform, I break down every lyric as if I were breaking down a scene in a play. I create the situation for myself in my imagination. I create a partner who I’m singing to. I know whether I’m in an apartment with my father or grandfather or out in a field with friends. It’s rare anyone cares to do that in pop music.”

Manilow’s technique is much more common in theater, which is something he fully realizes, having been a musical theater fan since his childhood days in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“My first records were cast albums starting with Guys and Dolls, to Finian’s Rainbow to Gypsy and all the great shows,” he recalls. “I fell in love with songs that told stories and songs that had great situations in them and great melodies. Then I found myself onstage singing pop songs, and I was not interested in just standing there and singing. The only way to go, to keep myself sane, was to find situations I could find myself truthful in, even though they were relatively simple lyrics in a pop song. `I Can’t Smile Without You’ or `I Write the Songs’ or any of the songs I’ve had hits with, they are not Sondheim lyrics, but I treat them as if they are.”

Scared again

Raised on show tunes, Manilow, not surprisingly, has tried his hand at writing a musical. His first effort was an offshoot of his hit song “Copacabana (At the Copa),” which ran in London and toured the U.S. (with a stop in San Jose).

With Bruce Sussman, Manilow also wrote Harmony, an original musical about the Comedian Harmonists, a German singing group popular in the 1920s and ’30s during the rise of the Nazi regime.

The show had its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1997, and plans for Broadway were off, then on, then off again. It was a bruising experience for Manilow.

“One of my goals before I croak is to see Harmony produced properly,” Manilow says. “I’m not involved in producing it anymore — that killed me last time — but there are two respected producers who are interested in doing the show. Who knows? In the next year, you might see `Harmony’ in a full-page ad somewhere. As of now, I had to step back and put my defenses up again. It hurt too bad.”

But Manilow has not soured on the idea of creating a musical. The fun, he says, is in the creation and in putting all the elements together.

“Then it turns to money,” he adds, “and the whole thing falls apart. But the creative part is so addictive, so thrilling and so satisfying. After you get past the insanity, everyone goes back. I have loads of composer-writer friends all over Broadway with the same scars I’ve got, and they always go back.”

One of the hardest working men in show business, Manilow claims that the best vacation for him is in front of his keyboard writing songs.

“I try my best,” he says. “I chain myself to a chaise lounge, grease myself up like a tuna fish, sit there and try to read a book. But I can’t do it. I’m much happier in front of my keyboard.”

Manilow is back in talks with Clive Davis, his longtime producer, about a fourth “decade” CD: the ’80s. And he’s writing another concept album similar to 2001’s “Here at the Mayflower,” but with more of a rock bent.

“Right now, believe it or not, I’m studying pop-rock bands like Nickelback and The Fray,” Manilow says. “There’s a bunch of talented young people in that world. This new album has some edge to it, and I’m trying to figure out what’s going on out there, and what’s going on is very exciting. I need to scare myself again. This rock ‘n’ roll world is scaring me. I don’t know whether I can do it.”

Here’s Manilow singing his “Weekend in New England” with a pre-Oscar Jennifer Hudson:

`Q’ Marx the spot

With all the wild and wonderful denizens of Avenue Q heading into San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre this week, you’ll want to check into the Theater Dogs frequently. The characters _ both human and puppet _ will be doing some guest blogging.

For now, though, let’s chat with Jeff Marx (above left), the co-creator — with Bobby Lopez (above right) — of the show and the score.

The Florida native whose stint in law school couldn’t quite keep him out of show business, has left New York for Hollywood. He’s in the process of trying to find a house, and after looking at more than 50 potential abodes, he’s getting frustrated.

“I have found the one I like, and it’s on stilts,” he says. “I could never understand why anyone would want to live in one of those, but after seeing the view, I understand.”

Marx is living what some might call the good life. In 2004, the little puppet musical he co-wrote with Lopez won Tony Awards for its creators and for book writer Jeff Whitty, and then snagged the big prize for Best Musical.

Avenue Q, sort of Sesame Street with swearing, dirty jokes, puppet sex and Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman, but played by a woman), is still running on Broadway, and after a detour to Las Vegas that didn’t work out so well, the show is finally on tour.

So how is the 36-year-old Marx dealing with all this success?

“Bobby and I had different reactions to the success of Avenue Q,” Marx says. “He got all scared and nervous and had all this anxiety about what we were going to do that could outdo this. And I thought, `You know, this exploded. There’s no outdoing this.’ I realized I could die happy having done only this — not that I’m planning to retire. But realizing that took all the pressure off. I’ve got all the money I need now, all the respect and admiration and the open doors. I’m very happy now, and whatever I do next will be fun. I’ve had a huge success. Now I can do anything I f—ing want.”

That a scrappy little musical that mixed puppets and human actors singing songs like “It Sucks to Be Me” and “The Internet is for Porn” would beat out a behemoth musical like “Wicked” for the Best Musical Tony was a shock — even to Marx.

“I think the reason Avenue Q hit home for so many people is that so many aspects of it are true,” Marx says, referring to the main character Princeton, fresh out of college with a B.A. in English, no money and no prospects, meeting friends in a similar state of struggle.

“They don’t teach you in college what real life is going to be like,” Marx continues. “We sit in the quad thinking we’re pretty special, and it’s `Look out, world, here we come!’ But then there’s this rude shock. Everybody goes through it. We wrote this show about our lives and our friends’ lives.”

The 20- and 30somethings who flock to the show put songs from the Avenue Q original cast album on mixes for friends (Tip: The song “Schadenfreude” goes over like gangbusters on mixes).

“We wanted to write a musical for people who don’t necessarily like musicals,” Marx says. “We wanted to write for frat guys and straight guys — people who wouldn’t be caught dead at `Funny Girl.’ Now we hear all the time that guys are telling their girlfriends, `I want to see that show.’ That is the biggest compliment. That’s what we were going for.”

When asked if he’s at all familiar with the Bay Area, Marx says, rather humbly, “To be completely honest, I don’t know what bay you’re talking about.'” When he’s reminded just what the Bay Area is, he says: “I’ve only ever been out there sinigng with the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club. That was like my fraternity in college, my social outlet. I was 19. I’m looking forward to seeing San Francisco as an adult. I can spend as much time as I want and see what I want. And now I’m comfortable being gay. It’s a whole different thing from when I was there before.”

In Dori Berinstein’s recent documentary Show Business, which documented four shows’ journey from the beginning of the 2003-2004 season to the end. The shows documentared are Wicked, Caroline, or Change, Taboo and Avenue Q. In the movie, Marx talks about the conflict he had with book writer Whitty.

“The whole writing process was 4 1/2 years of tough work, especially between me and Jeff,” Marx says. “Bobby and I came up with the plot, the characters and a good half of the songs that basically outlined the plot. The dialogue wasn’t there, but the plot outline was. Jeff came in, and it was a tough balance because it wasn’t his baby, yet he had to put his mark on it an ddo his thing. He was very, very good. His contributions were crucial and wonderful. We had our ideas, he had his ideas. The biggest problem was that we wanted it to be revue-like, like Sesame Street, which doesn’t follow a plot too strongly — it’s like a bunch of commercials in a row. There’s logic to the sequence but not a linear story. Jeff is a playwright, and was, like, No, if you want to do a play, you need a climax at the end, and you need to plant seeds along the way — follow the breadcrumbs to the payoff. You can’t do a revue, he said, because how do you know when it’s over?”

In the end, Marx concedes that his and Whitty’s battles resulted in a better show, which is a compromise — part revue, part play.

“I’m happy with the hybrid,” Marx says. “But it was a big struggle. We fought a lot. Steam came out of our ears, especially Jeff’s. I was like the character Nicky, needling him, and he was more like Rod, fuming and saying No! Just leave me alone!”

After the show’s triumph at the Tony Awards, theater producers across the country were shocked when the Q team opted to bypass the usual national tour in favor of a sit-down production at Steve Wynn’s lush new resort in Las Vegas.

“He told us he’d build a theater to our exact specifications, not too big, not too small, and that they’d advertise on billboards and in the resort’s 2,000 rooms,” Marx recalls. “He said anything flies in Vegas. The show is perfect, don’t change a thing. He gave us a lot of money. It was great for everybody.”

The show got a slow start because the hotel got a slow start. Avenue Q was a tough sell to the Vegas crowd because it was hard to describe. Turns out people in Las Vegas don’t really want to see puppets no matter how racy you tell them they are.

“After a couple of months, we said the show is too long, so we cut it down to 90 minutes — removed 12 minutes and the intermission — and still tickets did not skyrocket the way we wanted them to,” Marx says. “Steve Wynn wanted full houses and standing ovations. He was embarrassed, so he closed it and put in Spamalot.”

But the Q team and Wynn shook hands and parted as friends.

“He bet on us, we bet on him. He paid us a lot, and we parted with a fair settlement,” Marx says.

Marx and Lopez are at work on the movie version of Avenue Q, which Marx says will be “very retro” like The Muppet Movie. There will be humans in the movie but, unlike the show, the puppeteers won’t be seen. The team has also created a student version of Avenue Q to be done in high schools.

“We’ve toned it down a tiny bit, taken out some expletives and som inappropriate stuff for kids,” Marx says. “We figured the schools would want to do it, and rather let them edit the show themselves, we’d do it so the show could retain some of the flavor but be age appropriate.”

As for the spoils of his success, Marx will be kicking back in his fancy new L.A. pad — as soon as he finds one — and as for his Tony Award, it’s in his parents’ Florida home.

Avenue Q continues through Sept. 2 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30 to $90. Call (415) 551-2020 or visit