This sure ain’t Sesame Street

Photo credit: Kyle Wasson/Arizona Daily Wildcat

By CECELIA MARSHALL for Arizona Daily Wildcat

Published October 11, 2012 at 10:01pm

If Big Bird and the characters of “Sesame Street” are out of a job in a few months, the characters of “Avenue Q” may be able to fill in.

Arizona Repertory Theatre introduces its fall semester musical, “Avenue Q,” directed by Rob Gretta. The Tony Award winner for “Best Musical,” written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, satirizes coming of age stories in a hilarious manner — taking messages from PBS’ “Sesame Street,” such as “you can do anything you set your mind to,” and flipping them upside down to reveal that you actually aren’t that special after all.

This musical based on puppet mastery with an adult-themed twist will hoist you by your underpants (if you’re wearing any) and won’t let go.

Musical numbers echo the cheery tunes played on each episode of “Sesame Street” or other educational after-school broadcasting but take a deeper meaning. Songs talk about how everyone is racist, the pleasure in others’ pain, homosexuality, how college degrees are useless and how life generally sucks. The show teaches the hardships of adulthood in a very frank manner by using expletives freely and often, causing gasps and roaring laughter from the audience.

Roommates Rod and Nicky, mockingly similar to Bert and Ernie, address the key question in their relationship — homosexuality.

Trekkie Monster, like Cookie Monster, deals with obsession, but instead of sweets and desserts, he is addicted to porn and leads a rip-roaring number called, “The Internet Is For Porn.”

And then there’s the puppet sex. Oh yes, puppet sex. Some of us have witnessed puppet fornication in movies like “Team America: World Police,” but it’s done quite differently on stage, and the song, “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)” is enough of an explanation.

Caitlin Stegemoller, a musical theatre senior, plays Lucy the Slut. She had experience in previous ARTmusicals such as “Into the Woods” but adding the element of puppetry has taken it to an entirely different level.

“I saw ‘Avenue Q’ on Broadway about four years ago. It looked so fun, easy and effortless but now I have a better appreciation for [puppetry],” said Stegemoller. “It’s very different and hard. You have to have two brains working: yours and the puppet’s.”

The puppet is an extension of you, she said, and it’s more than moving their mouth at the same time as you’re singing. Actors have to make sure their puppets are looking where they are and also that puppets take breaths and walk in strides, according to Stegemoller.

Actors used socks during auditions and only had the actual puppets to work with for about three to four weeks before dress rehearsals began.

Fortunately, UA alumna Michelle Lane led an intensive puppet workshop for an entire week to practice getting the movements into the actors’ bodies and not being afraid of the puppet, said Stegemoller.

“We all honed them in to make them come to life,” Stegemoller said.

Stegemoller said it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Lucy the Slut once the show ends.

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“It becomes your child and a part of you,” she said. “You get attached to them.”

“Avenue Q” boasts full puppet nudity, said Stegemoller, but more than that, it’s a show that all students can find something to relate too — whether it’s relationships, finding a job, coming out or the looming fears of graduation.

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