Wednesday, May 16 2012 06:25 PM

Puppets for grown-ups on stage at The Empty Space

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    Libby Letlow holds her puppet Lucy as the rest of the "Avenue Q" gang sits on the couch. There are 11 puppets in the musical.

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BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer gavinarts@aol.com

"Avenue Q," said director Jason Monroe, is hilarious, relevant and fast-paced, zipping along at just over two hours, including intermission.

"No one's attention will get drained," he predicted. "A lot of people are gigantic fans of the show because it's funny and delivers a message without browbeating."

Related Info

'Avenue Q'

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: The Empty Space, 706 Oak St.

Admission: $25

Information: 327-7529

The Tony award-winning musical that's been called "Sesame Street" for adults opens Friday at The Empty Space for a four-weekend run.

"I grew up watching 'Sesame Street' and loving the Muppets and what they said and did," said the 35-year-old Monroe. "Of course we don't have actual Muppets -- they're copyrighted -- but 'Avenue Q' takes all that love and beauty and gives it an adult feel."

Large hand-held puppets are a major part of the show. They appear on stage on the arms of the actors and move right along with them. All of the puppets were made by Libby Letlow, who appears in the show as Lucy the Slut.(See sidebar)

A satire on contemporary life and culture, it's set in a rundown neighborhood of a big city. All of the action takes place on Avenue Q, where Princeton, played by Taylor Lozano, a recent college graduate, has an apartment. He soon meets his neighbor, Kate the Monster, a character portrayed by Alexandra Mays.

"It's about a hard life where people can't get a job," Monroe said. "There are a lot of people right now that find themselves in that place."

In a comedic and gleeful way, residents of the neighborhood talk -- and sing --about all sorts of issues such as sex, drinking and surfing the web for porn.

One of the songs Princeton sings is "What Am I Going to Do with My B.A. in English?" which includes the line "With four years of college and plenty of knowledge, all I have earned is this useless degree."

Eventually, and with the help of his friends, Princeton learns what he was meant to do with his life.

In all, there are 11 actors and eight puppets in the cast. Those in supporting roles include Ronnie Benjamin Warren, Robyn Lace, Justin Lawson Brooks, Matt Burton, Kristen Noelle, Lorenzo Salazar, Ellie Hartman and Jared Cantrell.

Kayleigh Peaker is Monroe's co-director and Michelle Weingarten is music director. Eric Tolley is the show runner and Jay-Are Ignacio designed the set.

The Empty Space's motto is "Setting theatre free," which translates to admission on a donation basis. However, Brian Sivesind, executive director, announced in April that the theater hoped to do "Avenue Q," but only if enough was raised to cover the cost of the production in advance.

Happily, that happened.

"We raised a little over $3,000 in sponsorships and about $1,500 in (advance) ticket sales for opening weekend," Sivesind said. "As long as we can get a good turnout for the four weekends, we should be able to break even, which would be wonderful."

Tickets, priced at $25, will be sold at the door on Friday and Saturday. For the remainder of the run, which ends on June 9, admission will be by donation as usual.

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