Naughty Puppet Theatre

by kellie abrahamson
Nudity, profanity, internet porn. It sounds like something you might see on Cinemax, certainly not on stage at the Times-Union Center. But Avenue Q is a Broadway musical that has all that and more, including hilarious songs and a cast made up of mostly puppets. The risque show has enjoyed international acclaim and multiple award nominations. It even took home several Tony Awards back in 2004 including Best Musical; a win most suspected would go to Wicked.
Now, Avenue Q is touring the US and Jacksonville is one of the lucky cities on their itinerary. EU was fortunate enough to speak with not one but two of Avenue Q’s cast members: Sala Iwamatsu, who plays human Christmas Eve, and Seth Rettberg, who is part of the ensemble cast and understudies for all of the male roles. The two told us all about this unconventional production, one even people who hate musicals may want to check out.

EU: For those who may not know, what is Avenue Q about?
Seth Rettberg: Well Avenue Q is about a coming of age story for a young college graduate named Princeton. He basically graduates college with a BA in English and he moves to New York with big dreams and no money and sort of tries to find his way in this new strange world. [Laughs] Basically he tries to figure out what his purpose is in life. So the show essentially is about the colorful characters he meets along the way in his journey in New York City and sort of the life lessons that he learns along the way… When we’re kids we watch children’s television and we sort of learn our lessons from these colorful characters. We learn the ABCs and the 123s and the colors of the rainbow and stuff like that. But once we grow out of those children’s television shows we sort of stop learning those life lessons and stop being taught them on TV. So Avenue Q sort of picks up where those life lessons leave off, so you have characters reminiscent of children’s TV shows and similar sort of programming and instead of teaching children’s lessons they’re teaching adult lessons. [Laughs]
EU: Sala, you’re one of the only human characters. Does that make your job easier than the other cast members who are primarily puppeteers?
Sala Iwamatsu: Yes, they have a much harder show. Each person who does a puppet does at least two puppets so they have to have two different character voices and they have two different puppets that they use. But sometimes both characters will be on stage at the same time so another actor is manipulating the puppet for them while they have to still do the voices for that puppet… One person has to lip-sync the voice of another person talking on stage… It’s really difficult… I applaud them. They work so hard and I just get to go out there and be myself. [Laughs]
EU: What’s your favorite song or moment in the show?
Seth Rettberg: [Laughs] I really like ‘You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love)’ [laughs]. I think that’s one of the really good songs in the show. There are so many. There’s also ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,’ that’s one of my favorites too and it comes in a good place in the show too, it’s the first song in the show that really kind of pushes the envelope just a little bit and sort of tests the audience. But everyone has such a good time; it’s a lot of fun.

EU: Aside from the obvious, how is this musical different from any other?
Sala Iwamatsu: Because we have puppets we’re able to say a lot more things that a human being would not be able to say on stage. I think that’s why the audience ends up enjoying the show so much, because we can say racier things, we can do racier things, we can say very politically incorrect things and everybody in the audience loves it. But it’s also, with all the jokes and everything, it’s actually a really sweet story that a lot of college students can understand because it’s about graduating from college and you’re all excited and you have a BA in English and then you don’t know how to use that… There’s also a really sweet romance in the show between a puppet and a monster puppet and it’s kind of cute. Everybody can understand the relationship that they have.

EU: What would you say to convince someone who hates musicals to come out to Avenue Q?
Seth Rettberg: Well I would say that you’re going to hear profanity; [Laughs] you’re going to see loud, raunchy, naked puppet sex on stage and you’re going to have a good time. You’re going to laugh a lot. It definitely pushes the boundary of what we say in typical musical theatre. It’s definitely not My Fair Lady. [Laughs] It ends up being a lot of fun because it’s so attached to a pop culture sensibility. It lives in the modern day, it breathes in that sensibility and so a lot of younger audiences and especially people who hate musicals end up really, really liking this piece.

Avenue Q will be at the Times-Union Center on December 9 to December 14. Tickets range in price from $19 to $53. For more information, visit artistseries.fccj.org or call 632-3373.

meet the avenue q puppets!

Princeton
Princeton just moved to Avenue Q with a BA in English and big dreams. Unfortunately he can’t seem to make either work for him. Will he find his purpose?

Kate Monster
Kate is a sweet assistant kindergarten teacher who dreams of opening a school for monsters.

Trekkie Monster
Over on Sesame Street, Cookie Monster is obsessed with cookies. Avenue Q has a similar resident: Trekkie Monster, who is obsessed with looking at and collecting internet porn.

Rod
Rod is an uptight Republican investment banker who has a secret: he’s gay and completely in love with his straight roommate Nicky.

Lucy the Slut
Lucy the Slut is a nightclub singer who is, well, pretty slutty. She uses her womanly wiles to take advantage of the indecisive Princeton.

Nicky
Rod’s long-time roommate and secret crush, Nicky is an unemployed slob who knows about his friend’s sexual orientation and is trying to get him to come out of the closet.

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october, 2021

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