Tony award-winner visits furry friends

Monsters have taken over the Don Fruechte Theatre, courtesy of Tony award winner Robert Lopez. The co-creator of Avenue Q came to watch his fuzzy puppet friends perform Monday night at Claremont High School.

His visit was organized after Andrew Page’s daughter, Isabel, mentioned she would be portraying Kate Monster in the production. Excited, he shared the news with Mr. Lopez whom he worked with on various projects. Mr. Lopez was attending an Academy Awards nominee luncheon in Los Angeles the day of his visit.

The visit was an opportunity to get character tips from one of the men who gave the puppets life and for Mr. Lopez to see his first “school edition” version of the show.

“He was really curious to see how this adaptation has survived. It was a unique time for him to check in on the show, as well as give back to it,” Mr. Page said.

The performance focuses on recent college graduate, Princeton, trying to find his purpose in life now that he is on his own. The musical won for best musical, best score and best book.

The decision to make a school production of the adult-themed performance came after the final piece was such a big hit.

“When we were done with the show we wanted it to go as far as we could take it because we didn’t know when our next project was going to be,”?Mr. Lopez related. “We figured if we toned it down enough then maybe some high schools would be brave enough to perform it.”

Fresh out of college, Mr. Lopez and collaborator Jeff Marx wanted to work with a puppeteer they had met in a collaboration project. Their piece was about Kermit moving to Denmark in a happy-ending version of Hamlet. It’s then they began brainstorming how to create what would eventually become Avenue Q.

“After awhile you have to make yourself be creative. It is not just having a muse, its good to have a routine. At the end of the day, you have to have faith in your process.” Mr. Lopez said.

As he watched TV one night, he thought of Sesame Street characters portraying the roles in the show Friends. This unlikely connection developed into the Avenue Q cuddly characters dealing with adult life. Mr. Lopez shared that the production’s lead character, Princeton, was based on his own life. He described how he grew up with a lot of encouragement through school until he graduated from college. He began taking temporary positions and doing internships and felt his support system fade.

“You start to rely on yourself because that support structure just goes away. I wasn’t searching for a purpose, but I felt that no one cared about mine. I missed all of the cozy puppets that taught me growing up,” he said.

After he spoke with the CHS cast for a short time, Mr. Lopez took a seat to watch the students bring the story to life. As they performed the song “Everyone’s a Little bit Racist,” he laughed and bounced along with the happy tune.

When the students stopped to take a break, and get some notes from Mr. Lopez,  he praised the production and emphasized the importance of character.

“With puppets, what makes them real and causal is things that aren’t really planned. Even the professionals would fall into a kind of sing-songey pattern after awhile and it is important to try not to do that,” Mr. Lopez said.

As Mr. Lopez left CHS, he stopped to express how excited he was for the production, noting that he was “hyped up” and would probably not be able to sleep on the plane, CHS?Theater Director Krista Elhai said.

Ms. Elhai remarked that the students have taken his input to heart.

“[Monday] was an extra long night for us. It is always great when you bring in another person. When they give notes, the actors always take those notes better,” Ms. Elahi said.

Performances will run today and tomorrow at 7 p.m. and again next Thursday and Friday, February 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 presale and $12 at the door. Tickets may be purchased by calling, (909) 624-9053, extension 30463.

The production of Avenue Q is the cast’s entry into the American Musical Theater Festival this year. Last year, the department won for best ensemble for their performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Festival awards will take place on June 1, 2014 at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles.

—Christina Collins Burton


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