Behind the scenes look at “Avenue Q”

MILWAUKEE — The Tony Award winning “puppet musical” Avenue Q has opened at Milwaukee’s Skylight Theater.

Avenue Q is a two-act musical, and is a coming-of-age story, addressing and satirizing the issues and anxieties associated with entering adulthood.

Its characters lament that as children, they were assured by their parents, and by children’s television programs such as Sesame Street that they were “special” and “could do anything”; but as adults, they have discovered to their surprise and dismay that in the real world their options are limited, and they are no more “special” than anyone else.

“It`s about people trying to find their purpose in life. The lead character is Princeton, who just graduated with his B.A. in English and doesn’t quite know what his next step is,” Skylight Music Theatre Artistic Director Bill Theisen said.

Puppets appear on stage alongside human actors. Since this isn’t your typical musical, the actors had to put a lot of time into training to become puppeteers.

“In this show, you have to almost send your performance down your arm and into the puppet that you’re manipulating. When I`m playing Rod, what I`m doing with my body has to match what the puppet is doing,” Avenue Q actor Ben Durocher said.

This takes muscle memory, as the actors may be using a puppet where they’re manipulating one hand, or two hands, and sometimes two actors are controlling one puppet together.

“We are different people, but we need to move around the stage, around this set in unison. It`s like a really tightly choreographed dance,” Avenue Q actor Jason Jacoby said.

There are about 30 puppets in this show, some of which are multiples, so they can move around the set quickly and also have fast costume changes.

Maneuvering around the jungle gym of a backstage with the puppets can also be tricky as there are many moving parts to the set.

“There are all of these windows that throughout the show will open up. They just slide open and a different puppet character can actually pop out,” Durocher said.

It’s the talent of the actors and their great comedic timing that bring the puppets alive on the stage, while getting the crowd roaring.

Avenue Q will be featured at the Skylight Music Theatre until October 14th.

With 2,534 performances, Avenue Q ranks 22nd on the list of longest running shows in Broadway history. The show ended its Broadway run on September 13, 2009.

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