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AT THE PARAMOUNT - Avenue Q: The street where you live
AT THE PARAMOUNT - Avenue Q: The street where you live
An interview with Avenue Q's puppet cast members

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer


At first glance, Avenue Q appears to be a kiddie show; a mixture of human and puppet characters living in apartments on the same street, but look below the surface and it's much more. It's a night of pure entertainment & for adults. True to the large disclaimers, these characters curse, they have sex, watch the internet and make statements about homelessness, homosexuality, politics and pornography.

Avenue Q tells the story of Princeton, a boy looking for a place to live in Alphabet City. The rent is too high, so he travels the lettered streets until he reaches Avenue Q, the first place he can afford. Looking for his purpose in life, he meets the assortment of characters, human and cloth alike, who also live there. Brian is a comic, Kate Monster's a schoolteacher, Rod and his roommate Nicky, and then there are the others. Among them, Lucy, the slut, and Trekkie Monster, who is addicted to internet porn. There's even Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman), who's the superintendent of the apartment Princeton moves into.

The Seattle Gay News caught up with two of these characters and the man that brings them to life. Robert McClure is in the first national touring company of Avenue Q. He recreates the roles of Rod and Princeton that he also had the pleasure to perform on Broadway

Eric Andrews-Katz: Despite the posted warnings, do parents still bring their children to the show?

Robert McClure: Parents need to read the posters and not just look at them! Right below the fuzzy little friend it says "FULL PUPPET NUDITY!" I will say though, when they do bring kids, two things happen. The parents try not to laugh, so the kid doesn't get the adult humor. Or, more likely, the kid cracks up, and the parent shoots them a look as if to say "if you know what that means, you are dead when we get home." But they always leave smiling.

Andrews-Katz: Where did you get your training as a puppeteer?

McClure: I had no training as a puppeteer before Avenue Q, but I was a huge Muppet fan. I was so enthralled by the whole world Jim Henson created. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to pay tribute to it. Part of the audition process is a three-day "puppet camp." where you are thrown into all the specifics. I'll never forger them telling me: "Make sure I can see the puppet inhale before he speaks." I knew I was in for a wild ride. There is something so gratifying about realizing that puppetry is as insanely difficult as you would imagine it to be.

Andrews-Katz: What is Avenue Q's appeal that led to the show winning six Tony nominations and three wins, including the 2003 Tony for Best Musical?

McClure: The show packs a punch. People come in expecting the dirty puppet show. And they get all the laughs they expect & but they don't expect to care as much as they do about these characters. The show has heart.

Andrews-Katz: Can you please explain the uniqueness of the puppeteers being visible onstage?

McClure: They had the option to hide us like traditional shows. There is something riveting about seeing the puppeteer. It reveals the artistry behind while giving the human performance in addition to the puppet. I'm not just holding the character; I am the character, just as much as the puppet is. It's like looking through binoculars. One eye is seeing one thing, and the other is seeing something else. But your mind combines them into one image. One character.

Andrews-Katz: There are many controversial subject matters (racism, homosexuality, homelessness, internet pornography and being a republican) mentioned in Avenue Q. Is there a major one of importance that stands out to you?

McClure: It tackles all the big issues. The puppets can get away with saying truths that people can't. They approach life with such wide-eyed innocence that they can't offend the audience. They are simply stating what they see. The show deals with pretty raunchy and edgy material, but the result is the same as those children's television shows you watched as a kid. Instead of ABCs and 123s, you are learning about sex, and racism, and paying your rent & but the lessons all come back to love, tolerance, and friendship. Rod is one of the inhabitants of Avenue Q. He's a republican banker that loves musical theater. He's very close to two people: his girlfriend, Alberta, that no one has ever met, and his male roommate, Nicky.

Andrews-Katz: How long have you lived on Avenue Q? Rod: I've lived there since graduating college. Long enough to see the neighborhood slip a bit.

Andrews-Katz: I know you are a big fan of musical theater. What are your favorite shows? Rod: Oh, gosh.& Funny Girl, Meet Me in St. Louis, Dreamgirls, and, of course, Gypsy.

Andrews-Katz: What do you think of the current state of American musical theatre? Rod: I think it's thriving. People are realizing that there is something special about telling a story through song.

Andrews-Katz: Being a republican, what is your opinion of George W. Bush? Rod: All republicans will admit Bush screwed up. But just like it did for women in the '70s and '80s, "bush" will no longer be the fad, and people will wipe the slate clean & or leave a little landing strip.

Andrews-Katz: Do you ever find your political and private life in a conflict of interest? Rod: No! Private life and politics are two different things. Just ask Mr. Spitzer ... or Mr. Craig.

Andrews-Katz: Do you still keep in touch with Alberta, from Vancouver? Rod: Yup. She's my girlfriend. We have sex a lot. Hot, steamy, straight sex.

Andrews-Katz: How do you meet prospective dates? Rod: I don't. I'm in a very committed relationship with my hot-ass girlfriend, who has sex with me constantly. Passionate, lustful very straight sex.

Andrews-Katz: They say that "still waters run deep." Being a republican banker, how do you relieve stress? Rod: I have a log cabin that I visit on occasion. Very relaxing. Princeton starts off the show being a young, fresh-faced boy straight from college. Now that he has graduated, he's trying to find a place to live and his purpose in life.

Andrews-Katz: Can you tell us about your relationship with Kate Monster? Princeton: Kate is cute. There is potential there & I think we'll have to play it by ear.

Andrews-Katz: Are you any closer to finding your purpose? Princeton: Nope. Got any suggestions? Have any openings at the paper?

Andrews-Katz: What advice do you have for others trying to find their purpose in life? Princeton: Keep looking. It'll pop up in the craziest of places. I'm close to finding mine. I can feel it. Maybe it's in Seattle. Avenue Q was originally nominated for six Tony Awards in 2004 and won three, including Best Musical and triumphing over larger publicized shows like Wicked or The Boy From Oz. Still running on the Great White Way, the show just celebrated a milestone on June 3 of this year: Its 2000th performance officially established its place in history as the 25th longest-running Broadway show to date. Avenue Q promises to be an evening of pure adult entertainment that will leave your sides aching from laughter. It should not be missed.

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