Laugh your way through finding a purpose with 'Avenue Q'
calendar icon02 Mar 2018 user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen
Lincoln, Neb.--It may seem familiar with its smart humor, a cast of human and monster puppets interacting with other humans, a vague and yet specific street location in New York City, and teaching important life lessons. But “Avenue Q” is not the same as the “Sesame Street” that you may remember. It's much funnier.
“It takes the way many of us grew up watching ‘Sesame Street,’ and it sort of throws it on its head,” said Nebraska Repertory Theatre Artistic Director and “Avenue Q” director Andy Park. “It’s ‘Sesame Street’ for adults, and it’s just a really interesting show because you’re seeing these puppets that feel so familiar, but now they’re telling you more relevant life lessons. It used to be they were teaching you how to count and spell, and now they’re teaching you about how to deal with relationships, how to deal with the changing times and looking at your purpose. You graduate, you get your degree, and now what? That’s what the protagonist is dealing with in this piece—trying to find his purpose.”
The Nebraska Repertory Theatre presents “Avenue Q” March 2-16 in the Lied Center’s Johnny Carson Theater. Showtime and ticket information are available at https://go.unl.edu/avenueq.
Filled with gut-busting humor and a catchy score, not to mention the puppets, “Avenue Q” is a unique show that has quickly become a favorite for audiences everywhere. With music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and a book by Jeff Whitty, “Avenue Q” opened Off-Broadway, before transferring to Broadway in July 2003, where it won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
It features songs like “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English/It Sucks to Be Me,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” and “Schadenfreude.”
“Every song is a hit,” Park said. “In the rehearsal process, every single time you hear a song, you’d be thrilled if you were writing a musical and you had one of those hits. Every single one just stuns you. It’s truly a brilliant show.”
All of the characters (puppet and human) are young adults who face real-world problems with uncertainty of how to solve these problems.
Matthew Carter, a sophomore music major from Kearney, Nebraska, plays Princeton, a recent college graduate who is anxiously looking for his purpose in life. Beginning his search on Avenue A, he eventually finds an apartment in his price range on Avenue Q.
“Princeton is a down-to-earth, sweet guy with a heart of gold,” Carter said. “He is always caring about others and looking for love and friendship. After graduating college, he begins his quest to find his purpose in life. It has been an honor to go on this journey with him.”
“Avenue Q” features a real-life celebrity as a fictional character within the story: Gary Coleman, who played on the TV series, “Diff’rent Strokes” and is played in this production by junior theatre major Karen Richards of West Point, Nebraska.
“As we know from the late Gary Coleman’s life story, Gary has been a favorite in our eyes from his coined phrase, ‘What you talking about Willis?’ But after all the cameras were gone, Gary realized that he did not have anything to fall back on because his parents spent all the money he had made from his career as a child,” Richards said. “With nothing to fall back on, my character, Gary Coleman, found himself at Avenue Q with only the remnants of what could have been.”
Carter said audiences should expect a rollercoaster ride with “Avenue Q” as it follows the characters as they navigate life’s issues.
“’Avenue Q’ leaves no subjects untouched, no matter how mature they are,” he said. “The audience will experience happiness, sadness and a whole lot of laughter.”
Park called it “an equal-opportunity offender.”
“One of the characters in the show is Gary Coleman, and one of the big songs in the show is ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,’” he said. “I think what’s great about it is with all the things that have been going on lately, it’s amazing how this show is still relevant 15 years later. And even though it deals with serious issues, it deals with it in a way where you can laugh at yourself and laugh at each other, and it seems like a healthy way to approach some of the really important issues of our times.”
Richards said that is exactly what theatre is about.
“My favorite thing about theatre is that we are able to speak about things that society likes to stuff under the rug,” she said. “This show is a perfect example of a show that likes to push boundaries, and that is what I love the most about it. Theatre is meant to start a conversation, and I hope that after watching this show, that people will start openly speaking up about sensitive topics like race, sexuality and immigration within this country. ‘Avenue Q’ is unique, and we are ready to celebrate diversity with you through awesome theatre.”
It will also make you laugh.
“I think audiences should expect to laugh a lot,” Park said. “It’s one of the funniest shows I think that has ever been written—maybe ‘Book of Mormon’ gets there, too,” he said. “But it’s absolutely hysterical, and it never stops. You’ll laugh, but the other thing is that it’s such a relevant show that you will find yourself getting emotional and say ‘I’m about to cry—and it’s a puppet show.’”
Working with puppets was a new experience for the students in the production.
“Puppetry brings a whole new aspect to acting that I was very excited and nervous to learn about,” Carter said. “You tend to focus on even the most minute details when using a puppet, like where your arm is sitting or how much your head tilts. I have never worked with puppets before this show, so I had to adapt to those changes, but I have learned a lot about myself, as well as puppetry.”
Richards said it was an adjustment for the human actors as well.
“Working with puppets is a whole other world of acting,” she said. “When we first started our process, it was a little difficult for me to look at the puppets and not the humans operating them. Each actor does such an amazing job bringing life to the puppets that you want to look at their facial expressions and you want to look at how much fun they’re having. But you also realize that when you start to take in the puppets, the emotions of the actors are being emulated through the puppets.”
Park said it was a lot for students to learn, but they’re doing a great job with it.
“I am blown away by them, to be honest,” he said. “The puppetry is going to be a major strength of the show. We found people that had really good instincts toward puppetry, and it’s really reaping benefits. I’m really proud of the work they’re doing, and vocally this production is going to blow people away.”
Park said he is pleased with the first year of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre, and “Avenue Q” should continue the positive trajectory.
“’Avenue Q’ is going to be one of the best productions I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “Just the talent that we have in the show, the production values, even the full band that we’re going to have. It’s going to be very good. It’s really important that our audiences expect a high caliber of theatre and art coming out of us, and I feel like we are stepping up to that. And hopefully audiences will keep expecting more and more and challenging us to grow and get better every year.”
Note: This show contains adult content and themes, including full puppet nudity. (Seriously.)
AVENUE Q has music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and book by Jeff Whitty based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. The Nebraska Rep production is directed by Andy Park, music directed by Saul M. Nache and choreography by Lindsey Jouett.
Performances are in the Lied Center’s Johnny Carson Theater at 11th & Q street. Performance dates and times are:
March 2 | 7:30 PM
March 3 | 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM
March 4 | 2:00 PM
March 7, 8, 9, 10 | 7:30 PM
March 11 | 2:00 PM
March 13, 14, 15, 16 | 7:30 PM
Tickets are available through the Lied Center Ticket Office at 301 North 12th Street, 402.472.4747 or 800.432.3231 Monday through Friday from 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM, or online at nebraskarep.org. Individual tickets are $34, $17 for students and members of OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).
THE AVENUE Q COMPANY
The cast: Matthew Carter (Princeton), Aguel Lual (Kate Monster/Lucy), Peej Mele* (Nicky/Trekkie Monster), Nick Prior (Rod), Kellyn Danae Wooten (Mrs. T), Keith M. Cavanaugh* (Brian), Nicolette Shin* (Christmas Eve), Karen Richards (Gary Coleman), Cullen Wiley and Faye Davis (Puppeteers/Understudies).
Puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, Jessica Thompson (scenic design), Laurel Shoemaker (lighting design), Jamie Bullins (costume design), Emily Callahan (sound design), Brad Buffum* (stage manager), Brendan Greene-Walsh (technical director). The musicians are conducted by Vince Learned.
*member, Actors’ Equity Association