All it took for Madison Mellon to become obsessed with creating alternate worlds for the stage was the Broadway Menken/Ashman classic Little Shop of Horrors—particularly Audrey II, the anthropomorphic Venus fly trap puppet.
"Animatronics are completely lifeless," Madison said. "I really feel like there is something to be said about a human controlling a puppet and giving it breath. And especially in theatre; I don't think there's another way to replicate that giving of life."
Madison's philosophy holds a classical tone to it, particularly for someone who just graduated from high school. And her love of giving life to things—especially puppets—caught the attention of the Long Beach Playhouse. Unbeknownst to the teenager at the time, her direction of and puppetry in her high school's production of Little Shop had snagged her a new job creating the puppets for the Playhouse's upcoming production of the critically acclaimed, eyebrow-raising comedy Avenue Q.
Avenue Q is parody at its finest, mocking Jim Henson's Muppet creatures that exuded good-for-the-family wholesomeness. The show takes an entirely politically incorrect approach to examining American life through the eyes of filthy-minded puppets, and with songs like "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?", and "The Internet Is for Porn," Avenue Q scored accolades for its lyrics, music, and production, including the Tony for Best Musical in 2004.
Even more, the musical embraces Madison's own philosophy on a different level: It unabashedly uses the human body for telling its tale, as Avenue Q is noted for having its puppets' human controllers out in the open rather than hidden.
Shortly after graduating high school here in Long Beach, Madison was asked to create 11 puppets in her two-and-a-half month summer break before she headed to New York City to attend college.
"The puppets I built fit into the world of the show," Madison said. "Y'know, that Muppet-style but I definitely was not trying to build exact replicas of the Broadway puppets. Some are relatively close in design to preserve the spirit of the show but I took my own freedoms in designing them."
Come October, her puppets will gain life on the Studio Stage of the Long Beach Playhouse, where undoubtedly audience members will come to understand precisely why Madison truly believes in the magic of puppetry.
Avenue Q will be performed at the Long Beach Playhouse, located at 5021 E Anaheim Street, beginning October 19 through November 16. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.lbplayhouse.org or all 562-494-1014.