Puppets may be taking the stage next week at the University of Virginia’s Ruth Caplin Theatre, but the next show in Heritage Theatre Festival’s 40th anniversary season is anything but kids’ stuff.
“Avenue Q” is a modern-day coming-of-age story that follows a young college graduate as he moves to the big city, where he meets a cast of characters – both human and puppets – who inform his quest to discover his purpose in life.
The play features music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and a book by Jeff Whitty. Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Heritage’s production will be directed by Renee Dobson. It will be presented from July 22 through Aug. 2 at 8 p.m., with a Saturday matinee on July 26. Tickets are $35 ($30 for seniors, U.Va. faculty and staff and U.Va. alumni; $15 for students).
The production is recommended for mature audiences only due to adult language and subject matter.
Dobson said that the show’s appeal is due largely to its quality – it won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book – and its continuing cultural relevance.
“You just don’t see many shows win the Tony Triple Crown the way this show did,” she said. “And it won those awards against very stiff competition that year, including ‘Wicked.’ And the fact that the show is still running in New York today, is, I believe, largely because it is so topical and speaks to such topical issues – issues that so many young people deal with in the 21st century. This show tackles racism, political correctness, homosexuality and a range of other issues, and it does it in a comedic, satiric and highly entertaining way.”
The puppets are another part of the show’s unique appeal, Dobson said. “Beyond the singing and the acting and the dancing, which are always part of any musical, the puppets provide a sort of fourth aspect that is really wonderful to watch. I think the beauty of the puppets is that they can say and do almost anything in terms of making commentary on various aspects of our society. That is what I believe really draws in the audience, and what makes them the heart of our show.”
This fourth aspect has forced Dobson to deviate from traditional rehearsal practices at times.
“We did a lot of rehearsing in front of mirrors, which is unusual, so that the actors could get a sense of what reactions the puppets are having to each other. This allows them to really hone their acting around how the puppets are reacting,” she said.
“There is no illusion here. You see the actors coming out with the puppets and performing with them, but you want the audience to focus on the puppets and experience the show through them, so it is really important to create the reactions of and interactions between the puppets throughout the show.”
Dobson added that the show is a sort of sendup to classic children’s shows of the 1970s and ’80s. “The show makes you think about what some of your favorite childhood characters might be like when they get older. So despite the fact that the subject matter is much more mature in nature, this show still takes you back to those simpler times. There is something about puppets that just takes you back to your childhood. From the time we started rehearsals, it was like everybody was suddenly 10 years old, which is really what you want in acting – to be able to take those walls down and create.”
Free parking for all Heritage performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters. For information on the Heritage Theatre Festival season, visit www.uvahtf.org.