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November 8, 2012

‘Avenue Q’ musical has different view of Generation X

NORMAN — Today’s teenagers (and their families) continue to believe a college degree guarantees professional success and living the American Dream. The University of Oklahoma’s current musical “Avenue Q” begs to differ.

Conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, their music and lyrics were expanded by Jeff Whitty’s book into what can only be called an in-your-face musical that throws out the book of politically correct. In fact, puppets are the medium chosen by Yale graduate Lopez and New York Bar lawyer Marx to satirize Generation Xers and their quarter-life crises.

Cast members assigned puppets either voice and/or act one of nine characters. The puppet faces are equivalent to an average human with a miniaturized body that fits easily over a puppeteer’s hand and forearm.

Shawn Churchman, director and choreographer, changes very little from the 2004 Tony Triple Crown for best musical, best score and best book. In just less than two months, Churchman — with the aid of guest puppeteer instructor Cullen R. Titmas — transformed musical theatre majors into puppeteers.

Having seen the original Broadway cast, I can attest that OU performers Jamie Butemeyer, Ethan Kahn, Courtney Nevin and understudy Aaron Bourdreaux (for the ill Ethan Spell) moved with the same ease between the various puppet roles and often pushed my attention to watching the puppet over their own animated faces.

Lawton native and OU senior Butemeyer plays Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut. In the blink of eye, she moves between the unassuming teacher Kate and, shall we say, experienced Lucy. Her voice dipping down for a sultry effect, it is clear by voice alone when Butemeyer is portraying Kate and Lucy. Butemeyer’s gorgeous singing voice fills a room without force.

Kahn plays three characters, ranging in size from a child’s teddy bear to Oscar the Grouch. Often aided by Nevin to perform Trekkie Monster, the two actors sync their movements, with Nevin gently holding Kahn’s back with Trekkie extended in front of them each playing a single hand.

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