Whitty, Jeff 1971–
Whitty, Jeff 1971–
PERSONAL: Born 1971, in Coos Bay, OR. Education: University of Oregon, B.A., 1993; New York University, M.F.A.
CAREER: Actor and playwright. Manhattan Theater Club, New York, NY, director of artistic development. Stage actor, including roles in The Beard of Avon, New York Theater Workshop; and (as Titus) Freedomland, at Playwrights Horizons, 1999. Television roles include appearances in As the World Turns, 1999. Film roles include (as Greg) Famous (also known as Lisa Picard Is Famous), 2002; and (as Tim) Garmento, 2002.
AWARDS, HONORS: Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award for best book of a musical, 2004, for Avenue Q.
(Author of book) Avenue Q (musical), songs by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, produced in Waterford, CT, 2002, produced on Broadway, 2003.
The Plank Project, produced in New York, NY, 2003.
The Hiding Place, produced at Atlantic Theater Company, 2004.
Sparkle, produced on Broadway as part of The 24 Hour Plays, 2004.
Also author of plays Balls and Suicide Weather.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A screenplay titled Zora, for Warner Bros; The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, a play for South Coast Repertory; a movie musical for Paramount Studios.
SIDELIGHTS: Jeff Whitty rocketed to fame as a playwright in 2003, when his Tony-award-winning musical Avenue Q, a sort of Sesame Street for disillusioned 'Generation X-ers,' became a huge hit on Broadway on the strength of Witty's book. The format of the show is distinctly Sesame Street-inspired: a mixture of puppet and human characters, using cheerful, catchy tunes, teach viewers important lessons. Instead of teaching letters and numbers, however, Avenue Q educates urban twenty-somethings in how to cope with traumatic love lives and the discovery that expensive college degrees in English literature do not qualify them to do meaningful, fulfilling work. "Such home truths about life's infinite capacity to disappoint aren't quite so hard to take when they are being imparted by—and to—brightly colored, fur-covered creatures," Charles Isherwood concluded in Variety.
When the creators of Avenue Q came to Whitty and asked him to write the book for the musical, he was faced with a daunting task: not only had he never written a musical before, but even seasoned writers might be puzzled over how to connect such off-beat songs as "The Internet Is for Porn," "It Sucks to Be Me," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," and "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)." "How much story would the show support? Was it more of a revue?," Whitty recalled wondering in an essay posted on his home page. After two completely different drafts and countless smaller revisions, Whitty and the rest of the creative team—which included composer/lyricists Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and director Jason Moore—finally found a way to make it work.
Avenue Q "is a helluva lot of fun," Mark Dundas Wood wrote in Back Stage, "and kind of sweet, too, in its irreverent fashion." Entertainment Weekly critic Nancy Sidewater declared it "the smartest, most perverse puppet show in town," while Hollywood Reporter contributor Frank Scheck praised "Whitty's hilarious book" and the show's "lunatic wit and unconventional charm." A United Press International contributor concluded, Avenue Q "is so disarmingly charming and amiably naughty that it appeals to audiences of all levels of sophistication."
Whitty is also the author of the play The Plank Project, which mocks the genre of documentary plays in general and in particular the highly acclaimed play The Laramie Project, about the cruel murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man. Whitty is quick to point out that The Plank Project satirizes the didactic impulse behind plays such as The Laramie Project rather than the actual events of Shepard's death. Whitty packs The Plank Project with as many send-ups of modern media obsessions as possible. The main character, Abby Storch, is a 1,100 pound transvestite. After Richard Simmons fails to help him lose enough weight to leave the house on his own, a crane is called in to take Storch outside—but once there, he falls down a well. As in The Laramie Project, after this tragedy unfolds a group of outsiders comes to town to interview the residents and make a documentary play about the affair. A CurtainUp.com critic declared The Plank Project to be "laugh-out-loud entertainment" and also praised "the high jinx humor of Whitty's goofy characters."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Back Stage, August 8, 2003, Mark Dundas Wood, review of Avenue Q, p. 56.
Daily Variety, August 1, 2003, Charles Isherwood, review of Avenue Q, p. 2.
Dance, October, 2003, Sylviane Gold, review of Avenue Q, p. 90.
Entertainment Weekly, August 8, 2003, Nancy Sidewater, review of Avenue Q, p. 83.
Hollywood Reporter, August 1, 2003, Frank Scheck, review of Avenue Q, p. 12
New Yorker, August 11, 2003, Hilton Als, "Mayhem and Madness," review of Avenue Q, p. 77.
Time, August 11, 2003, Kate Betts, "Puppet Regime: Toys Really Are Us in the New Musical Avenue Q," p. 62.
United Press International, September 3, 2003, "Avenue Q Brings Puppetry to Broadway."
Variety, January 4, 1999, Charles Isherwood, review of Freedomland, p. 110; June 24, 2002, Charles Isherwood, "Vineyard Harvest," p. 52; July 15, 2002, Robert Hofler, "Not Just Kids' Stuff," review of Avenue Q, p. 45; November 15, 2004, Robert Hofler, "Whitty Repartee" (interview), p. 63.
Village Voice, March 26, 2003, Michael Feingold, "Boys in the Adulthood," review of Avenue Q, p. 66.
Broadway.com, http://www.broadway.com/ (March 3, 2005), "2004 Tony Awards: Book of a Musical."
CurtainUp.com, http://www.curtainup.com/ (March 3, 2005), review of The Plank Project.
Gay City News Online, http://gaycitynews.com/ (January 17, 2003), Eric Piepenburg, "The Parody Project: Writer Skewers Non-fiction Theater via Matthew Shepard Play."
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (March 21, 2005), "Jeff Whitty."
Jeff Whitty Home Page, http://www.whitless.com (March 22, 2005).
Plank Project Web site, http://www.plankproject.com/ (March 22, 2005).
Playbill Online, http://www.playbill.com/ (June 2, 2004), Ernio Hernandez, interview with Whitty.
Soap News.com, http://www.soap-news.com/ (February 19, 1999), interview with Whitty.