Playhouse grows up with 'Avenue Q'

Jessica Fischer • Aug 24, 2011 at 4:32 AM

From “Smoke on the Mountain” to “Seussical,” Rogersville Playhouse’s 2011 season has been packed with family friendly shows. Until now. On Aug. 26, the Playhouse will present the regional premiere of the decidedly adult Broadway musical “Avenue Q,” with performances continuing weekends through Sept. 11. “Our mission is to provide audiences with a variety of things, to cater to everyone, so we want to make sure that all of our audiences are being served,” said Chris Rhoton, the Playhouse’s artistic dir e c t o r. Winner of the Tony “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, “Avenue Q” is part flesh, part felt and packed with heart. It’s a laugh-out-loud musical that tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q in New York C i t y. There, he meets Kate (the girl next door), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie Monster (the Internet entrepreneur), Lucy (the exotic dancer), Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) and other colorful types who help him discover his purpose in life. The show uses both puppet and human characters to create a unique blend of tongue-in-cheek humor reminiscent of television shows like Comedy Central’s “Crank Yankers” and Fox’s “Family Guy.” And yes, the R-rated show, which features songs like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “It Sucks to Be Me,” is strictly for adults. “It’s that same brand of humor where it’s puppets doing things that you would not expect them to do,” Rhoton said. “It has all those elements of a classic episode of ‘Sesame Street,’ but the subject matter is geared toward adults. Whereas ‘Sesame Street’ might be trying to teach a lesson about sharing, this is trying to teach you something about relationships, jobs — not just dirty adult things, but things that we as adults come into contact with every day, things we all have to deal with — and puts a funny spin on it.” The Playhouse contracted Neal Figueroa of RoosterSocks Puppet Co. to create professional, one-of-a-kind puppets for the show. Figueroa and Rhoton became acquainted while both were students at Middle Tennessee State University. Since graduating, Figueroa has done custom puppet building work for MTSU, Showagon Theatre in Memphis and Stagedoor Manor in upstate New York. Figueroa also conducted a two-day workshop for Rogersville Playhouse’s puppeteers, most of whom had little or no puppetry experience prior to being cast for “Avenue Q.” “What’s interesting is the way that we started rehearsing. Instead of putting puppets in their hands immediately, we blocked everything with the actors as actors,” Rhoton said. “They learned the entire show, the choreography, the movements as a human character so that when they got their puppets they could infuse everything they were doing all along — the emotions, the arm gestures, everything — into the puppet and it was truly them coming through the puppet. “I was a little nervous because we didn’t get the puppets until a week or so ago, but Neal came in and did a two-day workshop with them and they’re phenomenal. It looks like they’ve been puppeteers their entire lives.” To celebrate the show’s regional premiere, the Playhouse will host an “Opening Night Orange Carpet Premiere Party” beginning at 7 p.m., Aug. 26, with hors d’oeuvres from the historic Hale Springs Inn. Rhoton said the evening’s fare — “fancy street food,” as he calls it — will play off the show’s New York City setting. “We went with a melting pot sort of theme, so one of the hors d'oeuvres is fondue,” he said. Specialty drinks will also be available. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. General admission tickets for the performance only, which begins at 8 p.m., will go on sale at the door at 7:30 p.m. Other scheduled performances are at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27 and Sept. 2, 3, 9 and 10; and 2:30 p.m., Aug. 27 and 28, and Sept. 3, 4, 10 and 11. Reservations are required for the show’s $20 premium couch seats and $15 cabaret seats. General admission tickets are $10 and will be available at the door on a first come, first serve basis. Rogersville Playhouse is located on the upper level of the American Legion building, 1924 E. Main St. For reservations or more information, call (423) 921-0027 or visit www.rogersville playhouse.com .Courtesy of Rogersville Playhouse

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