On Feb. 1, 2018, Avenue Q opened its doors to the anxiously awaiting Manhattanville community. The production only performed four shows, but each was sold out within hours the tickets went up. Avenue Q, directed by Artist-in-Residence for Musical Theatre, Mark Cherry, “addresses the issues of people just out of college and like the TV show that inspired it, it uses a combination of puppets and human characters to teach. The resulting show is very funny and heartwarming at the same time.”
This comedy was a huge hit with the Manhattanville community and had a great turn out all four nights of the show. In preparation for the incorporation of puppets, the cast was introduced to Jennifer Barnhart, who was in the original Broadway cast, and Rick Lyon, who created the original puppets for the show. According to Cherry, “both Barnhart and Lyon were available to do a puppetry intensive for the first three days of our winter session rehearsal period, and Barnhart returned during our tech week to do some fine tuning.” Lyon and Barnhart teaching the cast puppetry was a very exciting opportunity for the cast.
Senior musical theater major, Thomas Ian Johnson, played the leading role of Princeton in Avenue Q. He was not intimidated by meeting original cast members Lyon and Barnhart, but rather their professional puppeteer status.
Johnson explained, “here we were, a cast of people who had never [puppeteered] before, and four weeks down the road, we had to perform the entire musical with puppets, as if it was second nature.”
Meeting Lyon and Barnhart was nerve wracking for senior dance and theater major, Leandra Romano, who played Lucy the Slut.
“I was super nervous! But being able to work with them in such an intimate setting, was a huge highlight of my college career,” explained Romano.
While learning the art of puppetry, Romano explained the difficulties that she faced when learning how to operate her puppet.
“Lucy is the heaviest of all the puppets, because of all of her hair. Due to the way that she is constructed, her eyes are also farther up her head than any other puppet, so having to focus her eyes on her target, or the other puppet(s) that she’s in the scene with, was very difficult. She is also one of four puppets in the show that have two arm rods, which is difficult in itself.” Romano explained that she spent hours outside of rehearsal practicing and making sure that her puppet came to life.
As seniors, Johnson and Romano both closed out their college careers with memorable roles that will last them a lifetime.
“This past weekend was full of intense emotional swings, often switching between overwhelming love and joy, to the feeling of crippling loss… The memories, that we as a cast and production team made, will forever be implanted in my mind. And it’s those memories that made it so hard to let the show end,” said Johnson.
Romano explained that this production was her 34th stage production, and that “puppetry was something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, being able to learn the art form from the masters of puppetry themselves was unbelievable. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience especially since this was my last Manhattanville production.”
Reminiscing about the meaning of the show, Johnson stated; “The reason Avenue Q is so relatable is because so many of us feel like we’re wandering aimlessly through life, trying to find our higher purpose. What I know, however is this: As long as you treat your fellow humans with kindness and respect, you will find success, purpose or no purpose. Maybe our collective purpose in life is to be good to one another? Maybe they’ll address that in the musical Avenue R? I don’t know. But if everything is only temporary, why not cherish the moments you have with other people.”