WILLSBORO – Today is the last day to catch the Willsboro Drama Club's musical, “Avenue Q: School Edition,” music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx with book by Jeff Whitty, and directed by Derrick A. Hopkins.
“COVID has really stopped the arts, and finding a path forward to perform a safe production for all involved was key,” Hopkins said.
“Mr. Gardner, Mrs. Moore, and I wanted to keep theater alive and created a plan to ensure the safety of all involved.”
COVID precautions included cast size reduction to nine, crew to four, socially distancing, masks, restricted seating and no concessions.
“Students have their own bubble off stage with props, set, and seating cleaned regularly,” Hopkins said.
“Avenue Q: School Edition’ was selected because it fit the cast restrictions and since the majority of the cast are puppets, having a masked actor won’t inhibit their performance at all.”
PUPPETS & PUNCH
Winner of the Tony "Triple Crown" for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, “Avenue Q” is part flesh, part felt and packed with heart.
The laugh-out-loud musical tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton, who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q.
He soon discovers that, although the residents seem nice, it's clear that this is not an ordinary neighborhood.
Together, Princeton and his new-found friends struggle to find jobs, dates and their ever-elusive purpose in life.
“I saw the original show on Broadway multiple times, and I never thought this show could ever be done in a public school setting due to the language and content,” Hopkins said.
“However, the authors have done a great job editing the script to make it appropriate for a public school setting.
“I’m simply thrilled because the themes of finding one’s purpose, loving yourself, addressing racism, and the power of friendship all through the comedic lens are relevant and important issues of today’s teens.”
CAST & CREW
The cast of “Avenue Q: School Edition” features nine student performers: Stephen Leibeck (Princeton), Mallory Arnold (Kate), Regan Arnold (Nicky, Trekkie, Girl Bear), Kyle Jacques (Rod, Boy Bear), Myah Green (Lucy, Mrs. Butz), Danielle Reithel (Christmas Eve), Nathan Collazo (Gary Coleman), Ethan Leibeck (Brian), and Peyton Leerkes (Newcomer, puppeteer).
The show is also supported by student technicians: Katherine Estus (lighting), Hailey King (spotlight), Kylie Aubin (spotlight), Danica Santillo (stage management).
Adult production team includes Hopkins (director/choreographer), Jennifer Moore (music director), Shannon Passno (assistant music director), and Annie-Laurie Lemieux (stage management).
“I enjoy ‘Avenue Q’ because of the opportunities it provides to empathize with and understand many different kinds of characters,” Regan Arnold, a senior who plays multiple roles, said.
“It focuses on some challenging concepts but attacks them in a humorous way. Avenue Q’ promotes acceptance and self-love which is something I believe to be important.”
Having the chance to participate in a theatrical event during this time has been amazing for Arnold.
“I very much enjoy being able to work with my peers to put together a performance of which we all can be proud,” he said.
“There has been a huge gap this year when it comes to extracurricular activities so I am very thankful that students at Willsboro have been able to participate in the Drama Club.”
Through Arnold's years in WDC, theater has made him a more confident and more compassionate person.
“I have no fear of public speaking and because theatre has made me step out of my comfort zone so many times, I am much more willing to try new things and experiment in life,” he said.
“In addition, learning to understand characters that I have played has helped me become more adept at understanding others.
“Theatre has really helped me grow to be who I am today.”
Senior Myah Green's character is Lucy.
“She is a flashy, in your face girl, with a little bit of edge,” Green said.
“She doesn't really care who you are. She gets her way no matter what. It is a really interesting part to be playing.”
There are so many reasons why Green loves this show.
“I mean just look at the puppets, they are ridiculously awesome,” she said.
“But also it just feels so amazing to be back on the stage, to be in the wings, to sing and act. It makes everything feel perfect for a few hours.
“Unfortunately due to COVID, we only have a limited amount of tickets, but we still want everyone to come and enjoy. It will for sure make everyone laugh till you're almost crying!"
This will be the first time Green has been onstage since COVID.
"And in some ways it is nerve-racking, but it is also so exciting," she said.
“Theatre, especially now, has brought my fellow seniors and I closer together. We are all constantly laughing, playing with the puppets, and just having fun.”
Senior Stephen Leibeck's character is Princeton.
“Throughout the show we follow his journey after moving into this neighborhood and attempting to find his purpose in life,” Leibeck said.
“This is the main focus of the show. The audience gets to witness all of the characters gradually finding their purpose over the course of the show.”
Leibeck feels “Avenue Q” is perfect for his last curtain call at Willsboro before he departs for college.
“I am entering the stage of my life where I am going to be searching for my own purpose in life and preparing for the early stages of adulthood,” he said.
“There are many instances in my own life where I feel like Princeton, the young clueless kid who only wants to figure out what he wants to do in life.
“The show addresses this topic in a very comedic way to bring light into the situation. I highly recommend this show for anyone who wants to have a good laugh and quite possibly even relate to the story line.”
For him, the production has been a blast from the beginning.
“And I am very glad we have been able to make this work even with COVID regulations,” Leibeck said.
“The fact we have been able to bring theater back after not having it for so long has been really relieving for me after missing out on many other things during my senior year.
“I am very thankful for those in our theater program who have made this a possibility for us.”
Senior Kyle Jacques plays a puppet named Rod.
“Rod has some secrets that he has some trouble dealing with,” Jacques said.
“But throughout the play, he works on himself and confronts those issues. He eventually comes out on the other side better and happier than he was before.
“This has been a really amazing production, and playing with the puppets has been quite the new experience. I never thought I’d be a puppeteer!”
Theatre is a huge part of sophomore Mallory Arnold's life.
“And I can't wait to perform again in front of a live audience,” she said.
“‘Avenue Q’ is such a great show because it talks about current, real world issues while making you laugh. Some of the show's characters are puppets and it has been a lot of fun to use them, though there was definitely a learning curve!”
Arnold plays Kate Monster.
“She's a puppet who's a little quirky and really feisty and passionate,” she said.
Hopkins, the director, commends the students, parents, and school personnel, who have been incredibly supportive and understanding in bringing in limited audiences for this special event.
“There were limited staff and no other students in the building all week,” he said.
“In the end, theatre education is vital in the public school systems and even with limited audiences, this have been an incredible experience for the students.
"I am so proud of them.”
Email Robin Caudell:
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Willsboro Drama Club presents “Avenue Q: School Edition” directed by Derrick A. Hopkins.
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 20, Shows are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
WHERE: Willsboro Central School Auditorium.
ADMISSION: $10. For more information, please contact Derrick Hopkins. Visit www.mrhopkins.org to find a link to be placed on a wait list where tickets will be sold on a first come, first serve basis. Patrons will be notified if they are granted tickets via email.
NOTE: "Avenue Q: School Edition" contains adult humor and themes and is recommended for ages 13 and up.