ESCANABA - Though most are familiar with the likes of Big Bird, Elmo, and Bert and Ernie from "Sesame Street," fewer people probably know of Princeton, Kate, Nicky, or Rod - all of which are characters in the Tony Award-winning "Avenue Q."
Bay College's production of the "puppet-studded" show will take place Nov. 1-3 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. in the college's Besse Center Theatre.
"Avenue Q" is an adult-themed parody of children's shows, more specifically "Sesame Street." The show's plot revolves around Princeton, a recent college graduate who has moved to a New York City apartment on Avenue Q. In New York, Princeton and his neighbors try to cope with the struggles of real life, and learn that a person cannot necessarily count on things turning out as they would like, according to a pamphlet on the show that uses a combination of human actors and puppets.
Jordan Lester (playing the puppet character Rod), at left, and Laura Palmgren and Andrew T.S. Bedgood (Nicky), right, rehearse a scene of “Avenue Q” Wednesday at Bay College’s Besse Center Theatre. (Daily Press photo by Jason Raiche)
"Avenue Q is not the best neighborhood in New York City," explained director Crystal Dwyer. "Avenue A and B are very nice neighborhoods. As you go down the alphabet, the neighborhoods get worse and worse."
Dwyer said college students love this modern musical, which she describes as "zany," "irreverent," and one with "feisty lyrics." She noted that although shows like "The Sound of Music" and "Oklahoma!" are great and play an important part of theatre history, students get more excited about these more modern musicals, much like they did during last year's production of "Chicago."
"Avenue Q" was originally created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who also wrote its music and lyrics, with Jeff Whitty writing the book. "Avenue Q" opened Off-Broadway in 2003, before moving on Broadway. It won three Tony Awards for "Best Musical," "Best Book," and "Best Original Score." The show stayed on Broadway until Sept. 2009, and is currently No. 22 on the list of longest running shows on Broadway, with 2,534 performances.
"I know you can't go wrong if you do a Tony-winning show or a Pulitzer Prize-winning show, and this year we are doing the Tony Award-winning 'Avenue Q' and we're also doing a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama in the spring, so I think we have a very strong season," said Dwyer. "So I look for a show that's quality, that has won awards."
Dwyer noted that the three playwrights Lopez, Marx, and Whitty re-wrote a school edition of the adult-themed show appropriate for all audiences. Bay College will use the school edition of the musical, and Dwyer said she thinks the audience will accept this script better than the original.
"This is educational theatre, and in educational theatre I want to reach to as many people as possible," she said. "Because we're doing this edition, it promotes a wider audience. We can have from ages 12 and up come see the show instead of just limit it to adults only."
She noted that ticket sales have been going well, with approximately 60 percent sold as of Wednesday.
"I don't think any cast has ever had as much fun as this one," said Dwyer, and cast members seem to agree.
Colton Ranguette, of Garden, plays Princeton, and said his favorite thing about the musical is the company of everyone involved.
"We're like one big happy family," he said.
"It gives us an excuse to be somebody else for a change," added Jordan Lester, also of Garden, who plays Rod in "Avenue Q."
Shelby Gardner, of Ishpeming, plays Kate in the musical, and said she loves the puppets the cast gets to use.
"I love the puppets," she said. "It's so unique and just ... so different from actual people."
Lester said the cast is never in a bad mood during rehearsal, because the musical is so animated, while Ranguette stated where "Avenue Q" ranks among other shows of which he's been involved.
"I've been in lots of productions, but this one by far ... is my favorite one I've ever been in," said Ranguette.
Tickets for Bay College's production of "Avenue Q" are available through the Bay College Box Office, open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and one hour prior to the start of the show. Tickets are also available online at baycollege.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=3755. Tickets for "Avenue Q" cost $9 for general admission, $7 for Bay College students, faculty and staff, and $10.50 for online purchases. For more information, contact the Bay College Box Office at (906) 217-4045.