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by Anthony Chase
Avenue Q at MusicalFare
One of the most fabulous musical performances of this season is, without question, happening up at MusicalFare. From the moment the sultry, sassy, and voluptuous performer begins to undulate her way down the center aisle, singing her signature tune, “Special,” we are mesmerized. She pauses her steamy saunter to interact with various men in the audience.
“I can make you feel special for an hour or two,” she croons.
Confident that her buxom abundance has won over the crowd, she assures us, “Yeah, they’re real.”
What stage presence! What style! What a slut!
The show is Avenue Q. The brazen performer is Lucy the Slut and she is…a puppet.
“People let that puppet do things I’d never get away with if I came down the aisle myself,” says Amy Jakiel, the actress who operates Lucy and provides her voice.
Indeed, it is astonishing what the puppet cast of Avenue Q can away get with while actually earning the enthusiastic approval of an unflinching audience. They drink; swear; they have sex; they express their racist impulses.
I’ve emphasized the playfully seamy side, but the show is actually endearing and adorable, as a cast of puppets and humans struggles through very familiar dilemmas over life, friendship, love, and careers.
The merry romp is a stretch for MusicalFare, where the devoted but rather staid and older audience has found Stephen Sondheim challenging. The production energetically surmounts every obstacle in the Tony Award winning spoof of Sesame Street about what happens to Princeton, a puppet fresh out of college with a BA in English who moves into an apartment on Avenue Q, ready to make his way in the world.
In addition to her performance as Lucy the Slut, Miss Jakiel also provides the voice for the leading lady, sweet and vulnerable Kate Monster. The show also benefits from the vocal prowess of Jacob Albarella, who is wickedly funny as a Bad Idea Bear and a monster addicted to porn; hilarious humans Charmagne Chi, Jeffrey Coyle, and Adrienne Lewis (who plays Gary Coleman); Maria Droz, a deft puppeteer and vocalist; and Marc Sacco, giving an affecting and good-humored performance as Princeton. This mischievous and lighthearted crew runs the Avenue Q marathon with seemingly limitless mirth and energy.
Casting the show was only part of the challenge for MusicalFare with this production, directed and choreographed with mischievous skill by Doug Weyand. Puppets must be built, not hired.
Enter puppeteer Adam Kreutinger.
“I’m actually pretty new to puppetry,” explains Kreutinger. “I started in 2008 when I operated the puppets for Bret Runyon when we did Little Shop of Horrors at the Lancaster Opera House.”
Kreutinger liked his puppet experience. He joined forces with a group of friends, to form “The Nimals” puppet troupe, which also includes Droz. They play a lot of kids’ parties. He also has a magic act for a similar clientele.
He got the Avenue Q gig by coming in with a couple of his puppets and auditioning.
“I went in with a gray wolf named ‘Howie’ and a green frog named ‘Lily,’” he says. “They liked them, and talked to me about doing all the puppets for the show.”
Kreutinger explains that he kept the basic color scheme that had been devised for the New York production, but introduced his own personal style to the characters.
“The original puppets are based on Sesame Street characters,” he says. “We wanted to maintain that. My Bad Idea Bears are brighter, and my Nicky has a Mohawk haircut, I do eyes differently, but you would recognize the characters.”
Kreutinger reveals that puppetry is something that keeps him going until he can land a teaching job.
“I can earn a living until I get a job teaching,” says Kreutinger, a recent graduate of Buffalo State with a degree in art education. “I like performing for kids. When I did my student teaching, I also used puppets in the classroom.”
One of Kreutinger’s teaching placements was at St. Mary School for the Deaf.
“The puppets had to be able to sign,” he recalls. “So we needed a separate puppeteer to control the heads. We had a lot of fun. The puppets were like the Swedish Chef on Sesame Street, who needs his hands to cook. ”
Avenue Q is certainly testing the boundaries of Kreutinger’s puppet world, which has always involved a cross-section of entertainment for adults and children.
“When I student taught in an elementary school,” he says, “the kids had grown up with Sesame Street but were now too old for it. They thought of puppets as a children’s activity. I showed them a photograph of the actual puppeteers and asked, ‘How many children do you see in this picture?’ None.”
With Avenue Q, Kreutinger is certainly reconnecting with the child inside every adult. The production, marvelous in every detail, continues through March 4 at MusicalFare Theatre on the Daemen College campus in Snyder. Call 839-8540 for tickets.
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