Avenue Q at Independent Theatre North Sydney

Winner of the Tony Triple Crown for Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book, the hilarious Avenue Q tells the timeless story of a recent college graduate trying to find his way in the world. Set in New York City all the way out on Avenue Q (he couldn’t afford anything better), we are introduced to fresh-faced Princeton as he struggles to find his purpose: meeting friends, finding love, losing love, and finding it again, along the way. Inspired by the beloved children’s show Sesame Street, Avenue Q creates a puppet-filled world that is a little more reflective of the difficult, R-rated realities that we face when we learn that real life isn’t as simple as we dreamed it might be – but perhaps, suggests Avenue Q, life is all the more colourful and worthwhile for it.

Carly spoke to Director Peter Meredith about bringing this popular musical to Sydney and what we can expect from this upcoming production. Read the full interview below:

Peter Meredith

It’s time to head back to the Avenue with the latest production of Avenue Q to hit Sydney. What do you think it is about this show that keeps audiences, and theatre makers, coming back to it, and how, 16 years after its Broadway debut, do you believe it maintains its relevance?

The characters all have an air of familiarity about them. We've all grown up with kids shows that have characters that are broadly (or specifically) similar to the characters in Avenue Q. When you then layer over this what is a real world coming-of-age story about modern people in modern circumstances, the gap you cover to buy into the story is super easy.

Plus, who doesn't love the idea of puppets being rude? It's the best!
 

One of the hardest parts of achieving success with this show is a smooth and clever use of the puppets – in a sense they are almost cast members in and of themselves. How have you gone about working through the puppetry skills with your cast and what excites you about integrating your monster cast and human cast?

The use of the puppets has posed quite a few challenges in having characters interact with each other. Our choreographer has had to learn a whole new language of movement when it comes to puppets as she has had to consider the limitations of arms and legs, and characters with more than one human operating them. Also, the shape made by an individual when they have a puppet on their arm creates something different form-wise, which we've worked on acclimatising the audiences to as early in the show as possible. As a general rule the cast moves as a pack, combining human bodies and puppets together in close proximity so as to make an interesting group of characters able to interact easily, rather than many separate bodies. This means we've always got something interesting to follow as an audience without having to consciously check-in on who is a puppet character and who is a person character.
 

The show has always been a little risqué in its politics and has kept many audiences coming back for more because of this. When bringing the show to Australia, do you need to adapt these political references at all or can they remain American? How have you and your cast approached the political jokes and what can audiences expect to have a good laugh along to?

I genuinely think this is a show which doesn't need tampering to make it relatable - it's all there in the material. It just works and it's funny as hell! I've definitely kept the show American and very rooted in New York. I toyed with how it might work in an Australian context, but in the end came to the conclusion that it is a very New York story - and those references are important to the continuity of the show. We reference the Empire State Building, Central Park Zoo, The Subway, New York taxis and I think these are familiar enough to Australian audiences as to not need any amendment. 
 

The music of this show is just so much fun and the songs offer scenarios that are so relatable for many people. Do you have a favourite song in the show and if so, why? When you direct a musical, do you direct in tandem with the musical director or do you prefer to have the book down before the music, or vice versa? What is your personal preference for tackling a musical?

With my performers hat on I'd always loved 'Scadenfreude' (because, were my genetic make-up slightly different I'd love to perform that role and song) - because it is such a great, irreverent song and a cracking sing.

Since working on the show thought with a Director's view on how it all fits together, the song I've enjoyed most is 'Fantasies come true'. It's a super fun number which does so much to advance the plot for both Rod and Kate.

It was my advice to the cast right from auditions that this show was a little unique in that it is next to impossible to rehearse with a Libretto and a puppet (which are all two-handed) - as such it was imperative that we get books down as soon as physically possible so we can really play with the materials and the characters. So we spent a good deal of time first up locking the music and the dialogue down so that once we started blocking we could really play. I have been thrilled at how well the cast have done in that respect and we've really been able to get into the detail of the show from a really early point in the rehearsal.
 

What initially drew you to this production? And what do you hope that audiences walk away thinking or talking about when they leave the theatre?

It is not a production that has been done on the North Shore of Sydney before - in fact it has been rarely done in Sydney at all and therefore isn't over-saturated. I think it'll be a show that most theatre buffs will be aware of, and familiar with but may have never seen. For non-theatre buffs, I think it's an easier sell than most as it's 'Rude Sesame Street' - and if you can't sell that, you're doing something wrong!

I hope the last 2 lines of the show stick with audiences - 'Life may be scary, but it's only temporary. Everything in life is only for now.' So often we try to create perfection in life - but shit happens, so do the best you can and be okay with that.

 

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:

 

Favourite production you have ever seen?

Slava's Snow Show (maybe 2003?). I was right in the middle of drama school at the time and it blew my tiny little mind on what theatre could be.

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

South Island New Zealand. A magical, magical place.

Dream show to direct?

Parade - Jason Robert Brown. Unlikely to get a run in Australia given the required cast demographic, but I think it's an incredible story and a beautiful score.

Plays or musicals?

Cannot answer this one. It just depends.

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

I play indoor cricked (poorly, though the beers help)

What’s next for you after this show?

I'll be appearing in The Full Monty with Theatre and Co at the Riverside Theatre in September.

Avenue Q opens at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney on April 26 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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