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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Avenue Q: The Puppets Take Manoa

Avenue Q: The Puppets Take Manoa

At rehearsals for AvenueQ.

Manoa Valley Theatre turns its set into the streets of New York for the Tony-award winning musical Avenue Q this month—a Hawaii premiere. “It’s about a young man (Princeton) who moves to New York, and tries to find his purpose,” describes director Bree Bumatai. Puppets and humans live side-by-side in this reverse world of Sesame Street—the apartments are run down, the people are unemployed and the puppets are horny.

While most coming-of-age stories are as interesting as watching dust fly, Avenue Q successfully keeps the audience’s attention through humor. Who wouldn’t laugh at Sesame Street-like puppets singing about how much they like Internet porn? The juxtaposition is hilarious.

Elitei Tatafu Jr. plays Princeton.

Bumatai enlisted Pam Arciero, a college friend who has been principal puppeteer on Sesame Street for 25 years (ironically, enough), to help train the actors on how to become masters of their own puppets. “There are a lot of skills to learn,” explains Bumatai, “how to lip synch correctly, learning how to focus the eyes, and learning how to use the rods [for the arms].”

Elitei Tatafu Jr., who plays Princeton, the lead puppet character, is not new to theater, having last directed Around the World in 80 Days at Manoa Valley Theatre. But, “it is the first time getting into the artistry [of puppetry],” Tatafu Jr. says. Like any true actor, he explains to me that learning how to give his puppet “human emotions and real human moments” is what he enjoys most about the musical. But, we both then go on to laugh about the sex scene—yes, a puppet-filled, Gary Coleman-serenaded sex scene.

Auditions for Avenue Q drew a large crowd of local actors. “It’s the name recognition,” explains Tatafu Jr. “The actors follow Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.” And, it’s the notoriety—not only is Manoa Valley Theatre showing the Hawaii premiere, but also it is the first community theater in the country to get the rights to this production.


The show’s pampered puppets get their own wardrobe on little hangers and racks, and get weekly visits from a puppet doctor, Anna Viggiano, who comes once a week to do repairs.

$39, March 3 through April 3). Not recommended for children under 14. Showtimes: Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 3 p.m., 8 p.m., and Sunday 4 p.m. Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road. Parking available at Safeway in Manoa Marketplace.

(3/2/11, edited)

Posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 in Permalink

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About This Column

This Kamehameha Schools and UH graduate manages the website for HONOLULU. In her free time she researches Hawaiian genealogy, when she’s not out and about or taking care of her 5-year-old son. She blogs about Honolulu bars, Hawaii nightlife and entertainment.

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