Arts Preview: Avenue Q tackles sensitive issues with the help of puppets
Windmill Grass Theatre
In Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's Broadway musical Avenue Q, puppets are used to satirise the fact that, in the adult world (and reality), no one is as "special" as they say in children's programmes such as Sesame Street.
But in Windmill Grass Theatre' Cantonese adaptation of the 2002 show, puppets are used to serve an extra function: to convey the more sensitive messages - including those about sex - to the audience.
"Although having puppets makes it seem like a children's production, Avenue Q deals with serious topics such as racial discrimination, sexual orientation and personal hardship," says director Fong Chun-kit, who is teaming up with Windmill Grass for the first time.
"Given puppets are objects, it allows the audience to be detached from the characters and digest how they deal with different problems without it being in their face. There's a sex scene, and having puppets to present that makes it easier to accept."
Revolving around a bunch of residents living in a fictitious street in New York, the musical features three human roles and 11 puppet characters. The story also references the many Hong Kong people who are leading meaningless and dreamless lives because they have to make ends meet.
Numbers such as It Sucks to be Me and I Wish I Could Go Back to College, are dubbed with Cantonese lyrics penned by actor-comedian Wong Cho-lam.
Most performers play multiple roles. Joey Leung Jo-yiu, for example, plays recently unemployed comedian Brian who sings at a low-end lounge to earn money for his upcoming wedding. He also plays Trekkie Monster, a porn addict who is indifferent to problems faced by the people around him.
Actress Shaw Mei-kwan takes the roles of Kate Monster, a pretty, smart woman with low self-esteem and her sexy competitor Lucy with whom she competes for their neighbour's affections.
Other than tired, cramped fingers from controlling the puppets and coarse voices from switching characters, Edmond Tong Chun-yip - the third of the trio that makes up Windmill Grass - says the greatest challenge is to stay lip-synched with the puppets. He plays two puppet roles - an aimless liberal studies graduate and the uptight, high-pitched Rod, who is yet to come out of the closet.
"As opposed to a Muppet show, all the performers are visible on stage in Avenue Q. While the performers are all very expressive, the puppets look a bit wooden because we haven't moved them simultaneously," says Tong.
"It can be hilarious sometimes, but it is also what we've paid a lot of effort to overcome. We have to channel our emotions into the puppets. We have to become one."
Kwai Tsing Theatre, 12 Hing Ning Road, Kwai Chung, August 23-25, 27-31, September 1, 8pm; also August 24-25, 31, September 1, 3pm, HK$200-HK$340 Urbtix (in Cantonese). Inquiries: 2389 9220