Next up for Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh is a hilarious home-grown presentation of Avenue Q on Aug. 15-19 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. The Triangle production of Avenue Q will employ puppets originally conceived and designed by Rick Lyon for the show’s Broadway production and national tour, which made its Triangle debut on May 6-11, 2008 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of Broadway Series South, and visited the Durham Performing Arts Center on April 19 and 20, 2011.
Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and performed by people and puppets, the multiple Tony Award®-winning PG-13 rated Broadway hit is an irreverent look at “real life” in a bustling outer borough of present-day New York City. Indeed, Avenue Q boasts a unique parental advisory: “Due to adult situations (like full-puppet nudity), Avenue Q may not be appropriate for kids under 13. Parental guidance is suggested.”
Avenue Q, which features music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and a book by Jeff Whitty, made its Broadway debut on July 31, 2003 at the John Golden Theatre, where it racked up 2,534 performances before closing on Sept. 13, 2009. The ensemble show earned six 2004 Tony Award nominations, and won the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical.
“I first saw Avenue Q during its original Broadway run,” remembers HSN and TR guest director and choreographer Richard Roland. “I was still performing at the time and had actually auditioned for the show for the roles of Nicky and Trekkie Monster, but it wasn’t meant to be. I had always loved the show and wanted to be involved in some way. Up until now, I have never worked on it.”
Roland adds, “My favorite element of Avenue Q is the balance of absolutely irreverent humor and adult situations, cloaked in the disguise of a children’s television show. The creators wrote a very smart show, which addresses real-life adult situations: sex, unemployment, eking out a life on a budget, romance, loneliness, friendship, and support, to name a few — presented through a filter of musical-theater tunes and puppets and slightly larger-than-life characters.
“The music is so catchy, the lyrics are so witty — you are entertained so much that before you know it, you’ve actually received several messages and, maybe, a lesson or two,” claims Roland. “Despite the bawdy humor and language and laughter, it’s actually a very moving story. I was surprised to have been as touched as I was the first time I saw it. I wanted to bring the show forth here and keep that sweetness amidst the silliness.”
He explains, “Avenue Q is about Princeton (Erik Floor), a recent college graduate who is stepping out on his own. He can only afford to live all the way out on Avenue Q, where he is immediately befriended by its residents. Princeton’s mission is to find his purpose in life. He has a BA in English and doesn’t know what to do with it. Each of the residents has their way of helping him try to find it.
“The superintendent of his building, Gary Coleman (Yolanda Rabun), in his own way, tries to keep Princeton looking on the bright side,” says Roland. “Princeton dates his neighbor, Kate Monster (Annie Floor), who is an aspiring teacher and wants to open her own Monstersorri School someday. His other neighbors Brian (Jesse Gephart) and Christmas Eve (Maya Naff) have aspirations of being a successful comedian and therapist, respectively.” Roland says, “[Princeton] has two more neighbors, Rod (Erik Floor) and Nicky (Adam Poole), who share an apartment and are at constant odds with each other. Princeton puts so much pressure on trying to find his own purpose that he forgets what’s right in front of him — friends (and a girlfriend) who love him. Princeton learns that it’s okay to not have to figure everything out in life at once.”
In addition to director and choreographer Richard Roland, the Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh creative team for Avenue Q includes assistant director Alex Tobey, assistant choreographer Katie Bottomley, musical director Jay Wright, technical director and set designer Chris Bernier, lighting designer Jenni Becker, properties manager Rick Young, costume designer LeGrande Smith, sound designer Eric Collins, and stage manager Christine Rapp. Also working hard behind the scenes are HSN and TR artistic director Lauren Kennedy, executive director Alan Campbell, associate artistic director Adam Twiss, publicity and media relations director Hilary Russo, and general manager Michele Weathers.
Richard Roland points out, “[Our set] is inspired by the original Broadway set. [It consists of] An urban landscape: a block of apartments on Avenue Q. It is designed so that it can go from a bar to an interior bedroom. It also has place where puppets can pop out of and nifty projections can take place!”
He adds, “The lighting is very straight-forward Broadway-style lighting. It will add to the fun of the piece, but also help isolate playing areas….
“The puppets have more costume changes that the human characters!” quips Richard Roland. “The puppeteers will be wearing contemporary blacks. And the human characters will dressed in fun, urban garb … that helps enrich the spirit of the show!”
Roland admits, “If Avenue Q was a musical with humans playing all the roles, it would be easier to stage and easier to cast. But it’s not — there are 11 characters that are played by puppets, and four of the seven actors in the show are also puppeteers, and those puppets have to live in the same world as the humans.
“The biggest challenge [in staging Avenue Q] is bringing the puppets to life and incorporating them into this world,” claims Roland. “What helps is that we always see the puppeteers. We’re not trying to [put] anything over on the audience — we watch the actor manipulate the puppet. The goal is for puppet and puppeteer to become one being.
“For instance,” Roland points out, “Kate Monster isn’t just the pretty furry face with the cute haircut — she’s also Annie [Floor], who plays her.”
He adds, “Puppets can indeed express a wide range of emotion, but having the human element visible adds so much more depth. The human adds the subtleties, the complexities that just cannot be evoked solely with a puppet. The challenge of bringing these puppets to life in a short rehearsal period is huge, but not impossible!”
Besides Boeing-Boeing (June 13-17 and 20-24), Dames at Sea (July 5-8 and 11-15), and Race (July 25-29 and Aug. 1-5) — all three in the Kennedy Theatre — and Robert Lopez’s whimsical Broadway musical Avenue Q (Aug. 15-19 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater), Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh‘s sizzling 2012 season will continue with the musical revue Oh, What a Night! 2 (Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater); Stephen Temperley’s biographical drama Souvenir, starring Lisa Jolley as wealthy socialite and would-be singer Florence Foster Jenkins (Oct. 3-7 and 10-14 in the Kennedy Theatre); and Tracy Letts’ dark comedy August Osage County (Nov. 29-Dec. 2 and Dec. 6-9 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater).
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 9th Charlotte, NC QNotes interview with Richard Roland, conducted by Matt Comer: http://goqnotes.com/16516/fresh-air-director-lauds-raleigh-arts-scene/.
Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh present AVENUE Q at 8 p.m. Aug. 15-17, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 18, and 3 p.m. Aug. 19 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
BOX OFFICE: 866-811-4111 or https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/27655/1343865600000.
INFORMATION: 919-480-5166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: Buy orchestra and balcony tickets for HALF PRICE for the 8 p.m. Thursday, August 16th, and 2 p.m. Saturday, August 18th, performances of Avenue Q by using the BOGO promo code buy1get1 when you place your order.
The Musical: http://www.avenueq.com/ (official website), http://mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000321 (Music Theatre International), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avenue_Q (Wikipedia).
Robert Lopez: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Lopez (Wikipedia).
Jeff Marx: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Marx (Wikipedia).
Jeff Whitty: http://www.whitless.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Whitty (Wikipedia).
Richard Roland: http://www.richardroland.com/ (official website).
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