Theatre Baton Rouge’s musical definitely not a children’s puppet show
Think of it as Sesame Street for adults.
- After all, Theatre Baton Rouge’s poster warns that everyone will be offended at least once while watching Avenue Q.
“So be warned,” says Keith Dixon, the theater’s managing artistic director and the director of this musical, which opens Friday on the theater’s main stage. Opening night will be preceded by a pay-what-you-can performance on Thursday, which marks the first run of the theater’s new Turner-Fischer City Series.
“And the residents of Avenue Q take great pride in offending everyone,” Dixon says, laughing as cast members walk toward the stage, each with a puppet on his or her arm.
- These are Muppet-style puppets, the kind Jim Henson designed for The Muppet Show and Sesame Street.
- But the educational experience offered by Avenue Q is not for children. This is a learning journey for a new college graduate named Princeton.
He’s earned a bachelor of arts degree in English and is eager to find his purpose in life, but first he must find a job and apartment. But all the residences on Avenues A through P are much too expensive.
So, Princeton lands on Avenue Q with a diverse collection of neighbors who lead him along a variety of paths.
Take the Bad Idea Bears, who have a way of talking Princeton into the worst of decisions. And then there’s Kate Monster, the girl next door. She’s a kindergarten teaching assistant who dreams of opening a Montessori school for young people of fur.
Since Kate is a monster, this reasoning makes sense to her. But wouldn’t this be discriminatory toward young people without fur?
Racist, perhaps? Princeton questions her. It’s just one of the issues examined by residents on this avenue, whose story was written by Jeff Whitty. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx wrote both the music and lyrics.
- It’s easy to conclude that they drew inspiration from Sesame Street for this production, but the show adamantly disclaims any connection to the children’s program or The Jim Henson Co.
- Avenue Q premiered in 2003 off Broadway and later that year made its debut on Broadway. It won best musical, best book and best original score at the following year’s Tony Awards. It’s still playing on off Broadway.
Now Theatre Baton Rouge will place its audiences on Avenue Q, where every resident is a human-puppet combination. Every movement made by a puppet is mimicked by its human handler.
Emotions that can’t be conveyed by puppets are projected by their humans, meaning lines are blurred between one and the other.
“You’ll be watching both the puppets and the people,” Dixon says. “They’ll all be on stage, and it’s fascinating to see.”
As it is in this Sunday rehearsal. Actors step on stage and begin working their puppet counterparts. Puppets join in their humans’ conversations, pop up in street front windows, wave at passersby.
All welcome onlookers to Avenue Q.
“It’s a fun musical, and it has a lot of heart,” Dixon said. “You’ll laugh out loud, but there will be moments that move you. Almost everyone will be able to relate to one of these characters.”
- But this is no Sesame Street. You have been warned.
- CAST: Roger Wilhelmi, Princeton; Emily Wright, Kate Monster; Michael Ruffin, Brian Monster; Natalie Sibille, Christmas Eve; Marlana Wright, Gary Coleman; Korey Jarmon, Rod; Nicholas Moore, Nicky; Haley Schroeck, Lucy; Anthony Pierre, Trekkie; Tyler Grezaffi and Carole Moore, Bad Idea Bears.
- ARTISTIC STAFF: Keith Dixon, director; Richard Baker Jr., music director; Samantha Vicknair Murray, choreographer.