'Avenue Q' returns to its roots at Mixed Blood

The company of Mixed Blood's 'Avenue Q.'

The company of Mixed Blood's 'Avenue Q.'

Jack Reuler has kept his eye on Avenue Q for a long, long time.

The Mixed Blood Theatre founder has known Avenue Q producer Jason Moore since the 1990s (he had his first professional job at the theater in 1999), and was invited to see the original piece in the early 2000s. Reuler was intrigued, and agreed with Whitty that it would work well on the Mixed Blood stage.

Then Broadway happened. And the Tony's. Then there were tours, a stop in Las Vegas, followed by more tours.

Finally, a decade later, Avenue Q is returning to its small theater roots at Mixed Blood. Reuler has crafted an all-new production of the show, one of the first independent mountings of the piece. While the story, score, and songs are the same, the work has been built from the ground up. "The original is the 'show that will not be named,'" Reuler jokes. [jump]

That started not just from day one, but last summer when the Mixed Blood crew began to put together the show. Brand-new puppets were designed, and Open Eye Figure Theatre's Michael Sommers came on board as the "puppet master" for the production. More than 200 actors auditioned for the company, proving that interest in the show remains high.

Then on day one--as is Mixed Blood's usually M.O.--experts from different fields were brought in to talk to the cast about different aspects of the play, from a standup comedian to a therapist to someone with expertise on the history of Gary Coleman.

During performances, the actors are kept busy. Most of them have puppets on their hands and also play instruments (though not necessarily at the same time). Tom Reed plays central slacker Princeton, a recent college graduate looking for his "purpose." Reed has it relatively easy--no instrument to play for him--but that has allowed him to concentrate on the difficulties of puppet acting.

"It's a really unique challenge," Reed says of puppeteering. "It's got a different language to it. You have to get the audience to feel with these little pieces of foam."

The show also offers unique challenges to choreographer Lauren Chapman, who had to create dances for characters without any legs. "It's one-handed choreography," Reed says.

The show's popularity and legs are more than just about puppets who have sex and who bad words, the director contends.

"When it started, it was kind of a naughty Sesame Street. Since then, it has taken on a life of its own," Reuler says. "In the end, it has become a show about a mixed community working through differences and coming together," he adds.

In other words, a perfect Mixed Blood show.

Avenue Q opens Friday at Mixed Blood Theatre.