The Staples Players this weekend will stage three performances of "Avenue Q," the musical comedy that examines life after college through the eyes of colorful puppet characters.
The Tony Award-winning show features a host of popular songs and satirizes the transition from student to adult in world where human actors and puppets freely interact.
Unlike a traditional stage play, producers said, some of the Staples cast had to learn to be puppeteers -- holding the puppets, manipulating their movements and giving them voices.
To train the cast, Staples brought in two professional stage puppeteers -- Rick Lyon, whose company created all the "Avenue Q" puppets for the Broadway show, and Pam Arciero, a "Sesame Street" veteran who plays the role of Oscar the Grouch's girlfriend, Grundgetta, on the PBS series.
"Avenue Q" opened on Broadway in 2003 and swept Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book.
In examining young-adult anxieties, disappointments and uncertainties, the show is a parody of "Sesame Street." And anyone familiar with the classic PBS series will easily recognize characters who parody Bert, Ernie, Prairie Dawn and Cookie Monster.
Popular sings from the show include "It Sucks To Be Me," "If You Were Gay," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "I Wish I Could Go Back to College."
For the Staples cast and crew, learning the catchy tunes and their satirical lyrics was the easy part, the directors said.
"The challenge of `Avenue Q' is, quite obviously, the puppetry," co-director Kerry Long said in a news release. "Avenue Q requires a very specific style of puppetry, in which the actor operating the puppet is fully visible to the audience. The actor must create a fully cohesive performance with the puppet. This has been a huge challenge for the students -- one that they have met with a lot of enthusiasm."
Staples senior Will Haskell plays and puppeteers the lead character, Princeton, a recent grad with no money, no job and a seemingly useless B.A. in English. Handling the Princeton puppet and acting was harder than he had thought.
"I have so much new found appreciation for the skilled puppeteers (who) operate the famous puppets of Ernie, Bert, Elmo and Big Bird," he said in the Staples news release. "I find the biggest challenge to be acting as a human alongside the puppet. I find myself watching the puppet act, but in `Avenue Q,' the human operators are entirely visible. Therefore, we need to act and express ourselves in the same way the puppet is. The puppet truly does become a human, as we learn to make them breath, sigh, cry, sob, think, smile and laugh."
Junior Jack Bowman puppeteers Rod, a Republican investment banker and a parody of "Sesame Street's" Bert.
"When you throw a puppet into the mix, everything is different," he said in the release. "Instead of just being natural in your character, you have to think about everything your face and body would be doing and put that into a small object ... On top of that, most characters have specific voices that we perform."
For "Sesame Street" fans, "Avenue Q" has an added bonus, Haskell said.
"This show offers an opportunity to see what `Sesame Street' might look like if the beloved characters aged and faced adult realities."
What: "Avenue Q" musical comedy with puppets
Where: Staples High School's main stage
When: Friday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 22, at 3 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 23, at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $10 for students, $15 for adults at www.staplesplayers.com; at the door 30 minutes before show. Cash or checks only at the door. Also available in Staples main lobby Wednesday, March 19, and Friday, March 21, from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
Parental warning: The show is a "school version" of the musical but contains adult themes such as racism and homosexuality, sexual inuendo and adult language.