Annie Russell stages a delightfully vulgar puppet musical

Courtesy of JD Casto
“Avenue Q” uses puppets similar to “Sesame Street” to tackle taboo subjects.

The Annie Russell Theatre’s upcoming play “Avenue Q,” which is the cousin of Sesame Street, may take you back to your childhood roots at first. However, this satirical musical uses puppets and songs to tackle taboo subjects like sex, relationships, and racism. 

Toting Tony awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score, “Avenue Q” already has a lot to offer audiences, but the Annie Russell cast promised to make it their own. The play premiers on Friday, Nov. 16 and will run until Saturday, Dec. 1. 

The story follows Princeton, a recent college graduate, as he seeks to find his purpose in New York City. He moves to the titular Avenue Q, where he encounters an assortment of colorful characters living on the shabby street. 

Ranging from a kindergarten teaching assistant to, literally, Gary Coleman, this array of down-in-the-dumps characters are each seeking to find their true selves and purposes in a comedy-filled, heartfelt story.

Director Timothy Williams is seeking to find a unique show through its cast. By helping the actors dramatize the award-winning story as well as their own characters, Williams plans on letting the show speak for itself. He told me all of this as the cast rehearsed the opening number, “It Sucks to be Me,” behind us.

Choreographer Parker King (‘20) and Student Director Annabelle Cutino (‘20) oversee the number, providing a peek into the rehearsal process. 

The cast got along in a way that embodies the collaboration and teamwork necessary for such an ensemble-heavy show to work.

With only one cast member having previous puppeteering knowledge, the Annie Russell cast learned an entirely new skill for this show. Analise Cutter (‘22), playing Kate Monster, said that learning how to perform as a puppeteer and an actor is an entirely new and challenging experience. 

Overall, as the cast becomes more accustomed to their new fuzzy puppet partners, the scenes are beginning to flow more easily and coherently.

“This cast is so talented and well-suited for their roles,” said Cutter. She added that she is excited to perform with such a great cast and could not wait for audiences to see their hard work.

Because of the way the script of “Avenue Q” handles sensitive subjects, it moves these topics from offensive to humorous. Faith Artis (‘21) said, “Even though we are saying offensive things, there is truth lying within them, which is what makes it funny and not offensive.” 

With professional Orlando puppeteer Rebekah Lane teaching the cast her craft, and music direction by James Bailey, the Annie Russell Theatre’s production should be a unique, enjoyable, and fun experience.

All shows are free to Rollins staff and students.

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