After the sold-out season of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which included several Burke award nominations, JYM Co., Australia’s only Jewish musical theatre company, is back with their most challenging show yet, Avenue Q. With only a week before they open, I managed to grab a moment with the extremely busy Pip Mushin (Director) and Shlom Eshel (Producer) to find out a little more about their latest venture.
AT: Why did you choose Avenue Q for your next show?
Shlom: We wanted something fun, upbeat and modern that would really appeal to our audiences. We also wanted a show that hadn’t been overdone in the Melbourne theatre community.
AT: What drew you to the show?
Pip: It’s such a unique piece of theatre. The combination of the traditional musical theatre requirements, acting, singing and dancing, with the addition of puppetry adds a wonderful challenge. As a director it’s important to be challenged in different ways. That’s the best way to your brain ticking.
Shlom: The great themes, the dynamic company and the challenge of working with puppets.
AT: What have been the challenges of staging Avenue Q?
Pip: The puppetry has been the major challenge. The actors have spent an incredible amount of time, leaning puppetry skills, and mostly from scratch. The creative team have had to gain an understanding of how best to utilise these furry creatures. Aside from that, it’s been a long rehearsal process and it’s important to peak at the right time. To maximise the time in the rehearsal room whilst building to opening night without burning the actors, or allowing the show to get flat, is always a challenge when the rehearsal period is measured in months rather than weeks.
Shlom: It’s a toss up between the set and the puppets. Both are such huge elements of the show this year that they have taken on lives of their own. Our crew is about three times the size of the cast to deal with it all!
AT: How do you think Jewish audiences will react to the show and its content?
Pip: Jewish audiences are traditionally avid theatre goers, so they’re pretty much used to the conventions of theatre. I think for the most part they’ll get a big kick out of the anything offensive or inappropriate.
Shlom: Whilst the show is best known for it’s references to porn and racism, it has some really poignant moments and touches on universal issues such as love, friendship and equality. I hope that the audience will come with an open mind and really enjoy the show.
AT: They say you shouldn’t work with animals or children — does that include puppets?
Pip: Absolutely, and now my list grows longer. I have directed a lot of footballers in sketches on various footy shows, so I would say “never work with kids, animals, puppets or footballers”.
Shlom: They’ve certainly been a unique challenge (But at least they don’t talk back, run away or pee on the carpet)!
AT: Who’s your favourite character in the show?
Pip: I’m pleading the 5th on this one. I’ll tell you after the show.
Shlom: It’s hard to pick just one as they all have really unique qualities. I’d say that Gary Coleman is one of my favourites — it’s one of only 3 non-puppet roles, so he has to stand up against all of the bright colour and intrigue of the puppets, plus I’d say everyone has a little black diva hidden away inside.
AT: Favourite song?
Pip: That’s a tough one. It’s such a brilliant soundtrack and my favourite changes week by week. Right now it would be “I Wish I Could Go Back To College”. It brilliantly sums up the show’s theme and is perfectly placed in Act 2. Also it’s a treat musically and the actors are really nailing it on stage.
Shlom: “There Is Life Outside Your Apartment”. It has beautiful harmonies, very funny and a great opening to Act 2.
AT: What’s next for JYM?
Shlom: A great little play called Chaim’s Love Song. This is the first year that JYM will do 2 shows in the one year and we’re hoping to continue with one musical and one play each year.
Avenue Q by JYM Co opens on Saturday May 5, at 7.30pm, at the Phoenix Theatre, Elwood. Make sure you get your tickets fast! Head to http://www.jymtheatre.com/ to book online.