Avenue Q puts adult twist on puppet show format

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) presents hit Broadway musical comedy Avenue Q, which runs through Sunday.

The show deals with the anxiety and problems facing young adults as they make their way in a world of humans and puppets — like Sesame Street, only with adult language and subject matter.

Ticket demand is so high that the company added two performances to meet the demand, organizers said.

Avenue Q opened off-Broadway in 2003 and moved to Broadway later that year, where it won a Tony Award for Best Musical.

It is the 23rd longest-running show in Broadway history.

The juxtaposition of comforting childhood puppet imagery subverted with the real issues those children face when they grow up is a subgenre of comedy dating back to Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano’s 1976 pornographic epic Let My Puppets Come; Peter Jackson’s 1989 cocaine-, sex- and violence-filled musical black comedy Meet the Feebles, about the seamy backstage world of a show that resembles the Muppets; and Jim Henson’s own The Land of Gorch sketches on the first season of Saturday Night Live, 1975-1976, which featured Muppets who drank and smoked drugs while lusting after the local “serving wench.”

Adults only

“This is a show that plays very well to a demographic that is 40 and under,” said Donald Jordan, CityRep’s founding artistic director. “The concept underneath is what happens in the world of Sesame Street, where the world of humans and puppets come together and they grow up and face the problems of young adulthood.”

The play follows Princeton, a young college graduate with no work experience, who lives on Avenue Q because it is the only place he can afford.

His neighbors are out of work, repressed, broke and generally miserable, and his building superintendent is Gary Coleman, the poster boy for people who were special when they were children and went on to lead disappointing lives.

Songs from the musical include “It Sucks to Be Me,” “The Internet Is for Porn,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” and “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love).”

Jordan said the company is excited, as this is the first professional production of the play in Oklahoma.

“This is our own production, but it will mirror the Broadway productions in a lot of ways,” Jordan said. “We’re using puppets made by the original Broadway puppeteer.”

Avenue Q is directed by Shawn Churchman, a CityRep-affiliated artist who directed the University of Oklahoma (OU) production in 2012. It stars OU alumni Aaron Boudreaux as Princeton and actress and cabaret singer Denise Lee as Gary Coleman.

“The whole cast is really stellar,” Jordan said. “It’s a young cast show. We have students from OU, OCU and UCO; all three of our great training programs in Oklahoma City are well represented in this production.”

Complex puppetry

What makes Avenue Q stand out is that puppeteers are visible onstage, though they are “invisible” in the play, and are of no consequence to the actors and the audience. It gets even more complicated: More than one puppeteer can animate a character, and some voice two characters at the same time. The more complex puppets with “live hands” take two people to operate, one for the mouth and a hand and another for the second hand. Famous “live hands” Muppets include Ernie, Cookie Monster and Fozzie Bear.

Jordan noted that puppeteering experience is valuable when putting together a show like this.

“If you are casting a show that’s a big tap-dancing show, you make sure they can tap dance,” Jordan said. “We have a young woman who came in from Dallas, Steph Garrett, who has done extensive puppetry, so she was a great addition.”

Garret performs the roles of Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut.

“Boudreaux had played Princeton before, so he is not only familiar with puppetry, he is very familiar with the puppetry that goes with that track and that character,” Jordan said.

“It is remarkably complex as a show; there’s a lot of puppetry and multitracking. It’s complicated in the staging and … there are video sequences that are similar to the transition sequences in Sesame Street. I mean, it’s not Death of a Salesman if you are talking about the intensity of the dramatic conflict, but it does have a lot of moving parts. It’s like having two actors being Willy Loman and then running off and being Linda in the next scene.”

Jordan said this is the third fastest-selling show in the company’s history, behind A Tuna Christmas and Greater Tuna. For more information and tickets, visit City Rep at cityrep.com.

Print headline: Hot blooded, Adult puppet show Avenue Q quickly became the third fastest-selling show in CityRep history.

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