This week, laughter will ring around the walls of the high school auditorium as members of the Wellesley community witness the Performing Arts department’s production of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Avenue Q.”
With performances starting on May 4 and continuing through May 6, student actors will depict the struggles of Princeton, a recent college graduate searching for his purpose in life as he navigates his new neighborhood on Avenue Q in New York City. Using both puppets and real people to act out this musical, “Avenue Q” will provide a unique experience for audience members.
Drama Specialist Mr. Stephen Wrobleski, director of the musical, selected this musical with the issues it tackles in mind. Wrobleski said the satirical nature of the musical drew him in.
“Satire has been used for a long time to point out, ‘Hey, here’s something wrong; I really want you to look at this. And, by looking at it through the lens of humor, it really disarms you… there is power in that,” he said.
Because this show handles more adult material than other shows in the past, Wrobleski has tried to balance performing an appropriate show while still portraying its core message. “I’ve toned it down a lot from the original to try to accommodate the high school audience, but I still want to remain true to the show,” he said.
Wrobleski looks forward to putting on the show with a “great cast” of “fantastic singers and actors.” He looks forward to seeing “the joy on [his students’] faces when they realize how much work they’ve done and how proud they are,” he said.
The cast includes Jack Grossi ’18 as Princeton and Rod, Princeton’s friend. Tess Buckley ’17 plays Kate and Lucy, Will Fulginiti ’18 plays Nicky and Tricky, Cam Ayer ’18 plays Brian, Sofia Ko ’19 plays Christmas Eve, Cypress Smith ’17 plays Gary Coleman, and Emma Downie ’17 and Caitlin Calooley ’17 play the Bad Idea Bears.
Grossi, who played Lumiére in the fall musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” appreciates the experiences provided by this unique performance. “It’s really fun to be two very different characters, because it allows me to expand my current acting abilities and diversify my skills,” he said. “I haven’t used puppets in any other show, so it’s been a learning experience working with them.”
Grossi described the musical as “an R-rated Sesame Street.” “It’s really vulgar, but that adds to the hilarity of it,” he said.
Ko, who plays Christmas Eve, one of Princeton’s neighbors, also believes the musical’s comedic aspect makes it unique. “The fact that this musical is sort of a parody of Sesame Street makes it even more unique compared to not just other musicals I’ve done, but all musicals in general,” she said.
Although Christmas Eve is not a puppet, Ko has had to work on interacting with the other puppet characters. “I personally found it difficult to have to keep reminding myself to maintain eye contact with the actual puppets, instead of the puppeteers who are playing them,” she said. “But overall, it’s a brand new experience that I’m happy to say I’ve been a part of.”
This is Ko’s first lead role in a musical, and she appreciates the support she has received from fellow cast members. “[My role] has definitely pushed my acting and singing abilities to a new level,” she said. “All the cast members support each other in running scenes together on our own time, and [Wrobleski] was definitely a major factor in why the show is as great as it is.”
This mindset of commitment and support is crucial for actors, as the quick turnaround from the winter play to the spring musical (about a month and a half) can be a difficult one. “If there’s anything that’s detrimental to us, it’s just time. Time is always crunched,” said Wrobleski.
Indeed, with all the different components that go into producing the musical, from the obvious singing, dancing, and acting, to the less obvious sound, lighting, and construction of the set, making this show possible requires a lot of coordination, passion, and commitment.
Yet this effort is well worth it in the end. As Ko said, “The most rewarding part of performing musicals is the feeling that all the hard work you put into making the show so great finally paid off,” she said. “The smiles on people’s faces remind me why I love what I do so much.”
And perhaps the most important part of the audience’s reaction is what message they take away from the show. Said Ko, “Even though this show is a comedy, I think it does a great job of sending the messages that [Wrobleski] listed before across to the audience. It brings back the awareness that many of us face in our society in a playful, but certainly truthful way, which makes the situations in the show relatable to the world we live in today.”