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Avenue Q Works Actors’ Muscles and Audiences’ Brains

The final Straz-produced presentation of the season is Avenue Q, and actor Spencer Meyers is going to have his hands full. Literally. Full of fabric and foam.

Spencer will have his hand inside the puppet head, puppet heads, actually, of two of the musical’s characters – Princeton, a recent college graduate looking for his purpose (and a job), and Rod, an uptight investment banker (think Bert from Sesame Street, only less comfortable with his sexuality. At first, anyway).

“Out of that entire cast I’m the only puppeteer who has never done the show before, so it’s a little daunting,” Spencer said. “All of the rest of the puppeteers have done the show together, so I am the newbie.”

Spencer’s not only learning his lines, he’s learning to bear the not inconsiderable weight of the puppets.

While posing with the puppets for promotional material, Spencer said, he “had those puppets on my hands for two hours, and I would say that within 10 minutes my arm was beyond tired. I realized there’s a whole new set of muscles I’m going to gain by manipulating this puppet.”

Fortunately, the script has all the levity the puppet heads don’t.

Even as the characters deal with serious, grown-up issues (unemployment, infidelity, homelessness) the play maintains its air of gleeful raunchiness, sending up sensitive topics to become targets of the show’s non-PC humor.

For example, accusations of bigotry lead into a number titled “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Princeton and neighbor Kate Monster’s first date results in the two puppets having loud, drunken, enthusiastic sex on stage.

“If you’re easily offended, this is not the show to see,” Spencer said. “Don’t waste the money.”

If you go, hire a babysitter.

“It’s definitely an adult show, not for children,” Spencer said. “Naked puppets having puppet sex — unless you really want to explain that to your kids, don’t bring them.”

Still, as Spencer said, Avenue Q “isn’t that offensive,” particularly when compared to The Book of Mormon.

Both Avenue Q and Book of Mormon proudly boast about being equal-opportunity offenders. The difference, Spencer said, is that while Mormon pushes the extremes — and succeeds in being “extremely offensive to everyone,” Spencer said — Avenue Q doesn’t.

“This is a very self-aware show,” Spencer said. “It’s a wink and a nudge.”

Spencer is a fan of the show. He said he’d previously been considered for other roles in the play – including the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster – “so this was a kind of curve ball for me to be looked at for Princeton and Rod.”

Princeton is the show’s male lead. His move into an apartment on Avenue Q is the plot device used to introduce characters and set up conflicts.

“I think it’s a fun show,” Spencer said. “I’m very excited for it but it will take a lot of hard work.”

Spencer said it’s “amazing” how heavy those puppet heads can be “when you’re moving your hand continuously,” so that the puppet appears to be speaking. Or singing.

“I’m very excited for these two characters,” Spencer said. “They have my favorite songs in the entire show. ‘Fantasies Come True’ is probably my favorite song. I think it’s one of the most endearing songs. ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ is one of my favorite songs, as is ‘Purpose.’ And of course Rod’s ‘My Girlfriend in Canada.’ That’s the fast one. He sings a million words a minute.

“Which means basically, my hand will be opening and closing at a very rapid rate,” Spencer said. “I tried it at home without even a puppet and by the end of the number I thought my hand was going to fall off.”

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