In ‘Avenue Q,’ puppets say what actors can’t

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In ‘Avenue Q,’ puppets say what actors can’t

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Carly Anderson, playing Lucy and Kate Monster, and Nicholas Duncan playing Princeton and Rod, pose for a photo with puppets for the musical “Avenue Q.” The musical is coming to Korea for the first time in August.Provided by the organizer

Kids will be disappointed to find out they’ll not be allowed to go see the puppet show that’s been advertised with colorful banners depicting Sesame Street-like puppets. The puppet show and hit Broadway musical “Avenue Q” is coming to Korea for the first time - and it’s adults-only.

The puppets sing songs like, “The Internet Is For Porn,” “It Sucks To Be Me,” “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today.”

“My nephew, who is 12 years old, asked me the other day to go see the show,” said Seol Do-yoon, the head of Seol & Company, the Korean agency in charge of it here. “I guess he saw the posters and thought it was a fun show for children. I was stumped and had a hard time explaining to him why he can’t come.”

Seol has set the rating as 12 and above but recommends the show for people 18 years and older.

“We thought there needed to be parent’s permission for those below 18 years of age,” he explained.

Prior to the launch of the musical at the Charlotte Theater in Seoul in August, the U.K. producer and a few actors and puppets arrived in Seoul for a press conference last week.

“Well, hello there. I just want y’all to come down and see the show at the Charlotte Theater. We would be very, very, very happy if you do. And you can come once, or twice, or three times if you feel, up to it,” said Lucy “the slut,” as actress Carly Anderson came up to the stage with a blonde, glamorous puppet on her arm.

The show, which is written by Robert Lopex and Jeff Marx and based on a book written by Jeff Whitty, deals with real-life issues faced by young adults ranging from youth unemployment and love, to homosexuality and pornography. It even includes a sex scene between the puppets, and the characters use abundant profanity.

“The show deals with and touches on very real issues. Some of them are quite saucy and naughty, but I think because they are all based on real-life issues, everyone has either experienced them or have family or friends who’ve experienced them. Everybody knows about trying to find the meaning of your life, everyone knows of or has a relationship with someone who struggled with their sexuality. All of these are very real issues and I can’t wait for Korean audience to experience the joy of ‘Avenue Q,’” said Paul Warwick Griffin, the U.K. producer, who came to Korea for the press conference.

“There are things that puppets can do or say that perhaps we wouldn’t do if it was just regular actors up on stage,” said Griffin. “Puppets can get away with saying anything. That’s the real thrill of the show.”

The musical started off-Broadway in 2003, and after only 74 shows, it moved to Broadway. In 2004, it competed at the Tony Awards with the hit musical “Wicked,” and to everyone’s surprise, “Avenue Q” won the Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, which is a “stunning accomplishment for a show that started very small against a show of a scale,” said Griffin.

“The diamond dress that Glinda wears in the musical ‘Wicked’ will probably cost more than the entire production of ‘Avenue Q,’?” said Anderson.

Although it’s a small production compared to “Wicked,” each puppet cost about $10,000. They have their own designers and stylists and are kept in an air-conditioned room.

“We pay great respect to the puppets as they are the big stars of the show. They have quite an intricate structure backstage that they live in. They fly business class and they eat out twice a week,” said Griffin, half-jokingly. “There’s a very specialized, dedicated regime around it because obviously they are such a critical part of the show and ongoing maintenance of them and styling of them are a very important part of the process and we bring out a trained team to do that.”

Meanwhile, for a show that makes the audience “burst into laughter every three minutes,” according to Won Jong-won, a culture critic, with “witty, greasy and naughty lyrics and lines,” it’s a challenge to please the audience whose first language isn’t English. Although there’s going to be Korean subtitles for the upcoming show in Korea, the challenge of the producers is making sure that the sentiment of the story resonates despite the language and culture barriers.

According to Seol, the company has been working with professional translators to make sure that the translations, especially the sarcasm and swear words, are as similar as possible to the original.

“It will involve one or two adjustments or tweaks so that the local audience understands exactly what we’re going to say, but we’ll not be changing the fabric of the show,” said Griffin. When the show first went to U.K. from the U.S., the organizers said that there were also changes in names and little jokes to allow better understanding.

BY yim seung-hye [sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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