This isn’t your grandpa’s puppet show. While the characters may bear a resemblance to those in Sesame Street, instead of singing about counting and the alphabet, these puppets delve into catchy songs with titles like “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” and “The Internet is for Porn.”
Theatrikos Theatre Company will be presenting "Avenue Q: The Musical" to Flagstaff theater-goers next week. Puppets and humans interact in the play like it’s the norm while a puppet named Princeton struggles to live and find a job in the big city after graduating from college.
At the beginning of a rehearsal a little over a week from opening night, cast members intermittently complimented each other’s puppets and burst out into song before gathering to receive notes from their two directors.
Theatrikos veteran Jan Rominger co-directed the production with newcomer John Propster, both of whom have had prior experience working with puppets.
“I heard that Avenue Q was coming up for this summer and I said, ‘Yes! I wanna direct [it] as my first experience here at Theatrikos!” Propster said.
While some of the cast are new to the Theatrikos community, others have been performing for Flagstaff audiences for years, but they all share the same passion of the theater. Both directors had nothing but praises for the cast, noting how supportive they’ve been of each other and how fun the show has been to direct.
“I can’t even tell you how many musicals I’ve directed in my lifetime, but this one came together so quickly,” Rominger said. “They were off book, they had their blocking, they had their choreography in less than 3 weeks.”
Zach Mauck, who plays the parts of Princeton and Rod in his second performance with Theatrikos, is a student at Northern Arizona University who was looking for a creative outlet when he joined the theater company.
“When I went up to NAU for school I was worried that I wasn’t gonna be able to do as much theater [as in high school], so I just tried to look around for community theaters and found Theatrikos online,” he said.
The cast members are volunteers who take time out of their busy lives to attend rehearsals Monday through Thursday nights and prepare an entertaining performance for the Flagstaff community. Even the set is built and painted completely by volunteers — a shabby, two-story brick apartment building creates the scene on Avenue Q where Princeton and his friends live.
Mauck is studying history and political science at NAU — while he enjoyed taking theater class in high school, he felt that majoring in it would take some of the enjoyment away.
“I just wanted to do theater for fun and it’s been a blast,” he said. “I’m liking this show a lot.”
The Tony Award-winning play explores themes of racism, sexuality and the ever-elusive meaning of life. It won awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book after its Broadway opening in 2003 and has since gone on to be performed by casts internationally.
There is a content advisory due to the adult themes, a sex scene with puppets and some profanity, but that shouldn’t deter audience members.
“It’s naked felt,” Propster said. “And it’s sprinkled with some amount of swearing in it, but it’s nothing kids haven’t heard before.”
“It’s probably not anything that’s racier than what’s on TV, but because it looks like Muppets we just don’t want people to be misled by that,” Rominger added.
The official "Avenue Q" website describes the musical as "part flesh, part felt and packed with heart."
“We’re in such a state right now in our society where people don’t want to say what they’re really thinking, offend anybody or anything like that, and this play just says, ‘Who cares? We’re out here — say what you’re really thinking!’” Propster said. “So if the audience gets a good laugh and can come out and feel better about life, then we’ve achieved the purpose.”
Avenue Q opens at the Doris Harper-White Community Playhouse, 11 W. Cherry Ave., this Friday, Aug. 4, at 7:30 p.m. with a special First Friday pre-show reception featuring free refreshments and artwork in the lobby. Stick around after for a post-show reception to meet the cast.
The show will run Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 20. Tickets for all performances are $26 and can be purchased at the box office, over the phone at 774-1662 or online at theatrikos.com.