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The touring cast of Tony-winning musical “Avenue Q” stopped by the WERS studio this afternoon on Standing Room Only for a live preview of some of the musical’s hit songs. The production just extended their run at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston before doors even opened last week. The cast’s palpable energy, bright smiles, and evident comradery makes it easy to see why tickets for this production are going fast.
This Sesame Street inspired musical was written by Jeff Whitty and won the 2003 Tony for Best Musical. The musical follows the narrative of Princeton, a young college graduate, who moved to the big apple to find his purpose in life. Starting by looking for a new place to call home, Princeton embarks on an apartment hunt beginning at Avenue A. With rents high and finances low, Princeton ends up on Avenue Q – where he meets new neighbors and explores new relationships.
What sets “Avenue Q” apart from the average musical is the fact that the majority of the characters are actually puppets. Revolving around adult themes like racism, homosexuality, and pornography, “Avenue Q” confronts audiences with what is most likely their first intimate scene with full puppet nudity.
The Lyric’s cast started off their live set with “It Sucks To Be Me” that introduces the characters as they argue about who’s life is the worst. Actors John Ambrosino, Elise Arsenault, Erica Spyres, and Phil Tayler morphed effortlessly into their characters despite a lack of puppets in hand. Then they moved into “If You Were Gay”, where Princeton’s neighbor Nicky suspects that their friend Rod is in the closet. Nicky, played by Tayler, tries to coerce Rod to be open and honest by profusely assuring him that he would not be seen or treated differently if he were homosexual.
The second half of the live set included “Purpose”, where Princeton contemplates what to do with his life and how to figure it out. The cast joked that the show has landed in Boston just in time for graduation season and that seeing “Avenue Q” should be mandated for all graduates. “What is it to become an adult? Here we are at commencement time, how do you make that transition?” said director Spiro Veloudos.
Wrapping up the set was “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” performed by Spyres. The emotional ballad follows character Kate Monster’s realizations of lost love and the fine intricacies of relationships.
Veloudos discussed how this particular rendition of “Avenue Q” is unique due to the intimate setting at the Lyric Stage Company. “I’ve seen this production on Broadway and it’s much different in the intimate setting of the Lyric’s theater. A slight turn of the head with the puppets becomes something and because of these intimate circumstances it becomes a more interesting piece to watch.”
Prior to coming on board for “Avenue Q,” none of the actors had ever been a puppeteer. The group attended intensive training with Roxie Myhrum, artistic director at Brookline’s Puppet Showplace Theater. “We called it puppet boot camp, we were terrified,” said Tayler. “Roxie taught us how to tell the truth through puppets. You can do exactly what you do as actor but just through your arms.”
Looking to the future, Veloudos predicts that “Avenue Q” will still be performed 20-30 years from now. The musical is already ranked the 21st longest running Broadway production with no signs of slowing down any time soon. Veloudos concedes that there is a gimmicky stereotype that follows the show, often known as the adult puppet musical. “This is an incredibly powerful piece of theater; yes, there is indeed a gimmick,” Veloudos said, “but people need to see that puppetry is an art within itself.”
“Avenue Q” is now playing at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston through June 24, 2012.
Correction: This is not a touring production. The Lyric almost exclusively uses Boston Area talent as part of the mission of the company and all of the performers in Avenue Q are from the Boston area.