Sneak Peek by Laurel Humes of Avenue Q: Incline Theatre
Puppets singing to perky tunes with snappy, life-lesson lyrics, living in harmony on the same street. Might remind you of Sesame Street. Except this street is Avenue Q, and the life lessons are definitely adult.
Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Avenue Q, directed by Elizabeth A. Harris, opens Feb. 17 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill.
The musical is so evocative of the PBS children’s series Sesame Street that liner notes of the original cast recording (Broadway, 2003) carry the disclaimer that it has not been authorized by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop. Avenue Q is not a satire or parody of Sesame Street, said director Harris, but uses the much-loved children’s program as a “conduit for the message.”
“The characters are young adults coming out of childhood wide-eyed, everyone-is-special, I’m going to change the world” and bumping into reality, Harris said. “It is a bit of a satire on adult life.”
There are plenty of plot lines. Princeton is a recent college graduate trying to find a job. With no money, his search for an affordable apartment starts at Avenue A and ends at Avenue Q. His neighbors there include a kindergarten teaching assistant, two roommates who might be gay, and an aspiring comedian and his Japanese fiancée. The apartment building superintendent is Gary Coleman (remember him?).
“The feel of the show is upbeat, sweet songs with honest lyrics,” Harris said. “The style of music makes the topics easier to swallow.”
The topics including finding a job (“What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”), not finding a job (“It Sucks to Be Me”), racism (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), and coming out-or-not (“If You Were Gay”).
And nearly all the show is performed by puppets. Each puppet is worn over an actor’s arm, either manipulated by a rod or as a glove, with the actor’s hand. Incline Theater rented the puppets from another theater that had them built for its production of Avenue Q.
“The puppet is the character,” Harris said. “The actor is just bringing to life the puppet, which is why the actors are dressed in shades of gray and black. When you first start watching, you see the actor and the puppet. As the show goes on, you start seeing just the puppet.”
Auditions for Avenue Q were “extensive,” Harris said, because the cast needed to sing, dance and coordinate with a puppet. “Some of the cast had previous experience with puppetry. The others have picked up on it and are having a blast, bringing puppets to life.”
Harris, who has acted and directed on many local stages, also has puppetry experience. She teaches acting at Northern Kentucky University and is theatre arts director in the preparatory department at UC’s College Conservatory of Music.
“I was thrilled to be asked to direct Avenue Q,” Harris said. “The show is right up my alley – comedy, satire, the quirky nature of the piece.”
And why should theatergoers see Avenue Q?
“It’s not a big, flashy classical musical. It’s a small cast and it feels intimate in its storytelling,” Harris said. “It’s a lot of fun, and truthful in its fun.”
Avenue Q runs Wednesdays-Sundays Feb. 17-March 6. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com
But artistic director Tim Perrino,