‘Avenue Q’s’ uncensored take on life
The Skylight's production, using the same puppets as the original Broadway show, opens Friday, Sept. 21.
Life is tough. But it’s okay to laugh about it.
That’s what the puppets of Avenue Q will say and sing this Friday night, when the Skylight Music Theatre opens its production of the quirky Broadway hit. Avenue Q, with its cast of Sesame-Street inspired puppets navigating life’s struggles in New York City, uses (adult!) humor and heart to address themes of racism, sexuality, the internet’s evils, and how much life can truly suck as a 20-something with a B.A. in English.
The Skylight’s production, staged in the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre, will offer a more intimate experience than the original Broadway production, but it remains true to the music and storyline. Stage director and choreographer Donna Drake has done five shows with the Skylight. She said she has broad artistic authority over her direction, but aside from adjusting the design and adding movement for the performers, the essence of Avenue Q translates easily and needs little change.
To tune up the cast’s skills in puppetry, John Tartaglia, an expert in the field, came in to train the Skylight puppeteers. Tartaglia started working on Sesame Street at 16 and previously puppeteered for Avenue Q on Broadway.
Drake directs Tartaglia’s project ImaginOcean and knows how demanding puppeteering can be. “The craft is very difficult,” she said. “I would say it’s as challenging as the art of dancing.”
Samantha Sostarich, a puppeteer with the production, said the cast had to work to pull off seamless timing and puppet exchanges. “Everyone works to fill out every character, and we hope that a balance occurs,” Sostarich said.
Drake added that the performers are able to switch voices and puppets in a way that appears effortless, so the audience doesn’t initially even notice a different actor is manning a different puppet. “It takes about three minutes for the audience to adjust. The puppeteers disappear and the puppets become the focus,” Drake said.
The juxtaposition of cuddly puppets and explicit material is one Drake believes works in the show’s favor. “We’re able to twist the knife without dragging down the audience,” Drake said. “We offend everyone, but puppets can get away with it.”
Avenue Q reflects that stage of life we’ve all been through. We think we can do anything, we want to affect the world, and then reality beats us down. We grow up when we finally realize we don’t know it all. “We need to laugh at ourselves even though human nature isn’t pretty,” Drake said. “Some days are rainy days. But I hope for laughter, above all.”
Front page photo credit Mark Frohna.
Keep up with the Skylight and all of Milwaukee’s performing arts. Bookmark Matthew Reddin’s TCD Guide to the 2012-13 Season. Sponsored by the Florentine Opera.