Jeanne Skattum feels a recent Tony Award winner can take Rochester Repertory Theatre back to its roots.
Skattum is directing the Rep’s production of “Avenue Q,” which won the Tony in 2004 for Best Musical. The play’s cast includes Muppet-like puppets as residents of a New York City apartment building.
“I think it’s part of the Rep’s role to introduce to the community the kind of theater being done everywhere else,” said Skattum, who was co-founder of the Rep 35 years ago. And to the kind of theater not being done elsewhere in Rochester, she might have added.
Skattum who directed dramas for years, and only recently turned to lighter fare, sounds reinvigorated by working on this play.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this much fun,” she said. “This has been a really unique show for us. I have a full crew of people I have not worked with before. It’s been terrific.”
“Avenue Q” is about a young man who graduates from college and heads to the big city to seek fame and fortune. He has no money, no job and few prospects. But he shares a community with his neighbors. “They are diverse,” Skattum said. “There are some monsters, some puppets, some humans.”
Auditions for the show attracted 25 people, Skattum said. “I was just amazed at the turnout,” she said. “They all knew the show, they knew the songs, and they were so enthusiastic. It was electrifying.”
That enthusiasm has carried over to ticket-buyers; the entire first weekend is sold out.
Meanwhile, Skattum’s cast is working around snow days to familiarize themselves with handling the puppets in the play. “Part of the the challenge is allowing how the characters feel to be transmitted through the puppets,” she said. “It’s challenging from an acting perspective, but also a physical challenge. Those puppets are big.”
Familiar names in the cast include Dylon Starr, Alicia Frarck, Dominique Jones and Ethan Scot Savage. Choreography is by Missy Hagen, with Catherine and Jon Davis as music directors.
“I saw the show seven years ago,” Skattum said. “I always thought it was a show that should be done in Rochester. I submitted it and here we are. It’s totally out of my comfort zone.”
While it concerns youthful characters, the play can speak to all ages, Skattum said. “It deals with issues that young people deal with all the time,” she said. “If you’re not dealing with them now, you did at one time.”
The play, which runs March 15-31, is recommended for mature audiences only, due to language and content.
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