Sexual puppets, crude humor, live music and roaring laughter from the audience filled Risley Theatre last weekend as The Melodramatics Theatre Company put on their fall semester musical.
“I thought they did a really good job and clearly put a lot of effort into it,” Dimitris Salas ’26 said, who watched the Nov. 5 evening performance. “The show was very funny and entertaining and I loved the songs.”
“We were shocked, we were not expecting it,” said first-time director Thomas Myers ’26, who co-directed the show alongside Emily Rubinstein ’25.
Avenue Q is a Broadway musical comedy and parody of beloved children’s show Sesame Street. The musical follows numerous twenty-something characters—puppets and not—as they navigate challenges such as sexuality, racism, love and finding one’s purpose in life.
Premiering off-Broadway in 2003, Jeff Whitty, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx wrote the show as an unfiltered and humorous look at adulthood. Avenue Q is distinct in its politically incorrect and offensive humor, paired with its ironic use of unassuming puppets.
According to Olivia Scaperotti ’25, who played puppet Kate Monster, Melodramatics Theatre Company had many conversations acknowledging its controversial content, making sure that the actors were comfortable in their portrayals.
This included reaching out to diversity and inclusion resources at Cornell. Due to licensing contracts, Scaperotti said only minimal alterations could be made to the script.
“It’s making fun of political and cultural beliefs from 2003,” said Ethan Ordower ’25, Melodramatics stage manager. “We thought about how we could bring that into the 21st century, but keep its old charm.”
This was especially important for Caroline He ’24, who played Christmas Eve, a Japanese-immigrant therapist whose character is the target of many jokes.
“Christmas Eve is an independent and successful Asian-American woman,” He said. As an Asian-American woman herself, He wished to spotlight positive representation in her portrayal.
For He and many other cast members, Avenue Q marked their first show ever at Cornell. This was the case for Cameron Howland ’26, who portrayed Rod, a gay, Republican investment banker.
“I hope people were able to enjoy the show, and that it provoked some thought in the right areas,” Howland said.
According to Howland, it was fun and rewarding to work with puppets for the first time, in addition to running an already technically-challenging show.
Oswaldo A. Grajeda ’26 said he sacrificed sleep for rehearsals and lost his voice portraying Trekkie Monster, the largest puppet and star of the memorable number, “The Internet Is for Porn.”
Though he was hesitant to audition, Grajeda said he is deeply grateful he took on the role, and said it has contributed to his growth as an actor and individual.
The Nov. 4 showing of Avenue Q was canceled due to cast sickness following Halloweekend. He and Howland caught the flu throughout performances, and Scaperotti caught strep throat the week before shows started.
The cast was determined to push through, however, with Karys Everett ’25—who played Gary Coleman—notably integrating their coughing into the light-hearted nature of the show.
“It was insane, but it was a great learning experience for all of us,” Scaperotti said. “You try and put on the best show you can.”
According to Ordower, this show marks the third post-pandemic performance for Melodramatics, making their success especially rewarding among low budget challenges and the step-up in theatrical scale.
After the pandemic, Melodramatics has staged semesterly musicals, as opposed to yearly ones.
Though the directors tried to keep the show’s success a secret to prevent nerves, cast members described amazement as they watched tickets rapidly sell out.
“People coming to our show meant so much to me—I love making jokes, and I love communicating with audiences,” Grajeda said.
The team, eager to work on more projects, have seen immense growth and bonding since production started in early September. They hope that Avenue Q’s success will bring more attention to musical theater at Cornell.
Myers now hopes to direct more shows and said he is looking forward to Melodramatics’ future.
Ordower’s next goal is to stage more popular Broadway musicals on an even larger scale. He said his favorite part of the experience was seeing the passion and commitment shine through the company.
“It just makes me happy, being able to make this something that can happen at Cornell,” Ordower said.