Sweet Briar Theatre stages concert version of ‘Avenue Q,’ a funny musical

"Avenue Q" players and puppets. Photo by Kye Hayslette.
From left are Taylor Watson, Erin Snyder, Isabella DePaulo, Amber Snyder and Sydney Goldman. Photo by Kylene Hayslett.

Sweet Briar Theatre will present its fall production, a concert presentation of “Avenue Q,” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 13 and 14, and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 15, in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Babcock Fine Arts Center. Melora Kordos, assistant professor of theater, will direct.

Billed as “the funniest show in town” on its website, “Avenue Q” is a “Tony Award Triple Crown” winner, having won Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book in 2004. Jeff Whitty wrote the book, while Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx share credit for music and lyrics.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times marveled at the staying power of the “singing, occasionally foulmouthed hand puppets of ‘Avenue Q,’” after the “‘Sesame Street’-style musical for adults who can’t quite believe they’ve grown up” reopened Off Broadway in 2009. It had lasted six years on Broadway, Brantley noted, “long after more full-bodied competition [had] bitten the dust.”

Like “Sesame Street,” the show calls for human actors to interact with puppets, who are operated by people visible on stage. Being a puppet, even in a concert version, has taken some adjustment, says Amber Snyder ’20. She plays Nicky in her first major role in a theater production.

“There isn’t as much movement as there would be in a full-staged production, but the puppets are still moving around a lot,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I need two more arms!”

The story satirizes the realities of becoming adults by characters who grew up being told they could do anything.

Bella DePaulo ’20 is Princeton, the “bright-eyed college grad” who “arrives in the city with big dreams and a tiny bank account [and] has to move into a shabby apartment all the way out on Avenue Q,” according to the website. Erin Snyder ’20 plays the girl next door, Kate Monster.

Snyder, in her first lead, agreed working with puppets was a whole new experience — but exciting, as was playing such a funny role.

“I’ve loved learning how to use [the puppet] to interact with other characters — human and puppet — on stage,” she said.

DePaulo found the show “fun and energetic” but challenging, too, pointing out there are a lot of musical numbers for the cast to learn.

“Learning how to sing and make the puppet look like it’s singing has definitely been tough. But overall, this is by far one of the most entertaining shows I have ever done,” she said.

Other Avenue Q neighbors include Lucy (“the slut,” played by Taylor Watson ’20), Rod (“the Republican,” played by Sydney Goldman ’20), Trekkie (“the internet entrepreneur,” played by Rory Lee Washington) and superintendent Gary Coleman (“yes, that Gary Coleman,” played by Haylei Libran ’20.)

“Together, they struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life,” according to the synopsis online.

Additional characters are Bad Idea Bear boy and girl (sophomores Sara-Jane Grubb and Macey Stearns respectively), Mrs. Thistletwat (Victoria Jemmett ’18), Brian (Kate Galbreath ’20) and Christmas Eve (Phoenix Brown ’20). Along with Jemmett, Jordan Sack ’20 and Rachel Rogers ’18 make up the ensemble.

The producers caution that thanks to “issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn,” this might not be an appropriate performance for children. It is about real life, however, so parents can determine for themselves if their teenagers are mature enough to handle it.

Visit the box office page for more information or order online at sbc.tix.com after tickets go on sale at noon Wednesday, Sept. 27.

Admission for the Oct. 12 performance is free for all area students and teachers with I.D. For all other performances, admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for non-SBC students. Children younger than 12 and SBC community members are admitted free.

For more information or to reserve tickets by phone, call 434-381-6120.

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