The puppets are the stars of Sumter Little Theatre's "Avenue Q," opening Thursday night. Like the final musicals of SLT's last few seasons, "Avenue Q" is a bit edgy, meant for mature audiences; the puppets may resemble the Muppets, but they're definitely not the same, according to director Carmela Bryan.
"There is puppet nudity and some language," she said. "Older teenagers will truly enjoy the show. We had a group of teens watch it. They could identify with it, they said. All of us no matter our age can identify with it."
"The show has a lot of different levels," Bryan said. "It's sort of a 'coming of age' after college story. The characters are young adults, who deal with relationships, sexuality, racism and entering the real world. The songs and characters are hilarious, and while it deals with serious subjects, its lightness makes it go."
Bryan said the show is one of the most difficult she's directed because there are so many different elements - the puppetry being new to most of the actors, as well. "It requires vocals, dancing and acting skills."
The plot of "Avenue Q" centers on Princeton, a recent college graduate who's come to New York with little money and a lot of expectations. He finds a cheap apartment on Avenue Q, where he meets his neighbors, each with quirks and dreams and struggles similar to his own - mainly to find their true calling. Princeton (Todd Warrick) sings in Act I, "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?"
The puppeteers manipulate and voice the puppets, and there are two human characters, Brian, an unemployed comedian played by John Michael Osteen, and Christmas Eve, a therapist without clients, played by Jessica Keller.
Melanie Leone, who was in last season's "La Cage aux Folles," who plays Lucy the Slut, said working with a puppet "took a lot of work. Nobody should be looking at me on stage. The focus should be on the puppets."
The show, she said, "is about learning where your path is going to take you."
Colby Rearden, who plays Trekkie Monster, said he pictures his character "like an older man who yells at you to get off his lawn. He's a loner who loves porn. He was bullied as a child and stays inside.
"The puppets have real, humanlike characteristics, and we have pretty real-life situations on stage."
Cierra Stewart plays Kate Monster, a teacher whose dream is to start her own "Monstersori" school. Her experience at SLT includes roles as a drag queen, a nun and Seymour's girlfriend in "Little Shop of Horrors."
Jordan Armstrong is in his first role at SLT as Rod, a Republican banker, Adrian Rios is Nicky, Rod's slacker roommate, and Jack Burnett plays four roles - a Bad Idea Bear, Mrs. T., Newcomer and Ricky - in his first adult role at SLT. Nancy Reading, an SLT backstage regular, also plays a Bad Idea Bear. Joyce Wisor plays Gary Coleman.
Bryan said she thinks the audience will like this show as much as she does. "The cast has been very committed since we started rehearsals in mid-March. They are all very talented, and they can all sing and dance."
She pointed out that "Avenue Q" won Best Musical, Book and Score at the 2004 Tony Awards. It ends its current run on May 26.
Linda Beck is music director, and the "Avenue Q" band comprises Sean Hackett on woodwinds, Barry Simpson on percussion, Darren Polutta on bass and Dave Auerbach on guitar. Libby Singleton choreographed the show, Michael Duffy is stage manager, Michael Leone is technical director, and Sylvia Pickell designed the costumes and serves as property manager. The backstage crew includes Kathleen Williams and Eric Sperber. Set construction and painting was done by Randy Abbott, Duffy and Michael Leone. Lexi Melton and Ana Hartman are lighting and sound technician, respectively, and Traci Quinn designed the program and playbill. The "Moving Boxes" were designed and constructed by Cole Miller and Eric LaChance.
Sumter Little Theatre, 14 Mood Ave., presents the musical comedy "Avenue Q" May 23 through 26, May 30 through June 2 and June 7 and 8. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for student/senior/military. There is a reception at 7 p.m. on opening night. Weeknight shows begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. The show is recommended for older teenagers and adults. For reservations, call (803) 775-2150 or visit www.sumterlittletheatre.com.
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