Pulling At The Strings Of Life

21 Oct

Felix Rivera (Princeton puppeteer) and Carla Guevara-Laforteza

If you’re in the mood for some mature entertainment, visit the puppets at Avenue Q. This wicked musical, a ‘Sesame Street for adults’, opens in Singapore at the end of this month.


WITH songs like The Internet Is For Porn, What Do You Do With A BA in English? and I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today, musical puppet show Avenue Q The Musical is not your average theatre production.

Opened off-Broadway four years after it was written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music) and Jeff Whitty (book), it was originally conceptualised as a TV series.

The show picked up momentum during its run and was transferred to the Golden Theatre in New York’s Broadway district in 2003.

Not long after, it picked the 2003 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding New Musical, and in the following year picked up three Tony Awards (Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book).
It has so far met audiences in the United Kingdom, Mexico, France, Israel and Russia and is set to meet a Singapore audience at the end of this month.

Presented by Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) and VizPro Entertainment, Avenue Q will be staged from Oct 30 to Nov 16 at The Esplanade Theatre.

The show is a fabulously furry and fun-filled romp featuring an ensemble of actors and some very adult-minded puppets.

The theme revolves around the lives of Princeton, a fresh-faced college grad; Brian, the out-of-work comedian, Internet porn addict Trekkie Monster and kindergarten teaching assistant Kate. And, of course, eLucie.

They get away with things that only puppets can (without being arrested). Together, Princeton and his newfound friends struggle to make it in New York City with big dreamvs and a tiny bank account. It’s Sesame Street with a very grown-up twist!

“I saw this musical in New York when it won the Tony Award, and laughed non-stop for two hours. What was most appealing was that it was fresh and contemporary and did not follow the formulaic musical template,” says SRT’s artistic director Gaurav Kripalani.

With its mature themes, the show, presented in association with Atlantis Productions, Inc, is only for those 16 years and above.

Gaurav and director Bobby Garcia answer queries about Avenue Q below.

Question: Avenue Q and Singapore don’t exactly sound like a match made in theatre heaven. How did it all happen?

Gaurav: By virtue of what I do for a living, I am privileged to have seen many musicals in the last 15 years. Every few years, one stands out from the rest because of its freshness and originality. Rent (1996) was one. Another that left an unforgettable impression was Avenue Q (2004).

It is one of the few shows I have watched multiple times because I get something different out of it each time. So when my friend, Bobby Garcia (who directed the production of Rent we presented at Victoria Theatre in 2001) asked me if I’d be interested in a production of Avenue Q that he’d just directed, I jumped at the chance.

Question: What were your initial reservations about the show being staged in Singapore? Any worries?

Garcia: None at all. We are all very excited about working in Singapore and have no doubts that audiences will love joining us for Avenue Q.

Question: Will the audience get to see Avenue Q in its entirety – no bleeping of words and cutting of scenes or songs?

Gaurav: Audiences here will get the completely uncut and uncensored version.

Question: Why do you think Avenue Q passed the theatre censors?

Gaurav: We have always had a good dialogue with the powers-that-be and have worked with them to shape the landscape in which we live. We worked with them to stage Rent here (it received an R (A) 18 rating), and we worked with them to bring Avenue Q here.

Question: Why do you think Avenue Q is such a theatrical phenomenon? Do you agree with the “Sesame Street for adults” tag?

Gaurav: Avenue Q is fun… it’s profound. It’s different and it’s for a new generation of theatre-goers. We have in recent years seen a lot of family musicals in Singapore. Avenue Q is for a more hip generation and for those who may not traditionally be into musicals. It’s going back to basics telling a good story well instead of focusing on theatrical effects. Two hours of pure fun after a long hard day at work – what could be more appealing than that?

Question: How was the response to the show in the Philippines where it was staged recently?

Garcia: We have run it twice to full houses. It is was a blast being involved in such a successful show.

Question: How many cities is it touring? Where is it going next after Singapore?

Garcia: There are no current plans for further stagings. But I know other productions of Avenue Q are opening this year in Russia, Mexico, France, Israel and several cities across the United States.

As for the puppeteer, Carla Guevara-Laforteza, when asked how hard is it to crack jokes using puppets, she said: “I only had three days of puppet workshops, and had to quickly learn how to manoeuvre the puppets and the rods attached to them.

“In the beginning, I asked myself how on earth was I to sing, act, dance and handle the puppets at the same time but by the second week of rehearsals, I was able to connect with my puppets and have them mimick my movements and was in sync with my singing and speaking.

“It was most difficult to handle the rods of Lucy because she had two (one attached to each arm) and I had to hold it like chopsticks and be able to make both move in different directions, whereby Kate was easier because she only had one attached to her left arm.

“The whole experience of learning the craft of puppeteering is extraordinary. It always amazes me how the puppeteers in Sesame Street were able to bring life to the puppets.

“Now I know that its definitely not easy. You need to be very creative. You must enjoy it and have lots of fun, and most of all, you must be true to your feelings because in order to bring life to the puppet, your inner feelings must be seen on your face, and they must reflect the puppets’ movements.

Is it easier to be the wacky/slutty/weird character when it’s the puppets doing the “talking”?

“Of course, and that is why it’s such great fun to act in and watch Avenue Q – puppets do it better.” said Guevara-Laforteza.

῕ AVENUE Q The Musical runs from Oct 30 to Nov 16 (8pm), from Tuesday to Sunday (with 3pm shows on Saturday and Sundays).

Tickets are priced from S$40 to S$140 (student concessions and group discounts are available). A limited number of S$15 tickets are available for the first seven shows to celebrate SRT’s 15th Anniversary.

For ticketing information, visit http://www.sistic.com.sg or http://www.srt.com.sg

New Straits Times

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