Welcome to Avenue Q

 

Imagine Sesame Street characters all grown up and having sex, living in the slums and singing about porn.

Welcome to Avenue Q.

The puppets and people of Avenue Q are coming to Clowes Hall to open the Broadway Across America-Indianapolis season. Please, don’t let the puppets misguide you. Avenue Q is a thoroughly original, ADULT musical conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who wrote the music and lyrics, and by Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book. Jason Moore directed the show, which was produced by and opened at the Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre in March 2003.

July 31, 2003, it transferred to Broadway’s John Golden Theatre and is still running, as are productions in Las Vegas, London’s West End and other locations worldwide. In 2004, Avenue Q beat out Wicked for the Best Musical Tony Award.

A U.S. national tour began in July 2007 and will stop in Indianapolis Oct. 14-19. For the Midwest portion of the tour, Hoosier Carey Anderson will be taking one of the leads.

The Person: Carey Anderson

From New Castle to Broadway

“It’s so great to do what I do here in New York and bring it back to where I come from,” Carey Anderson says. The New Castle, Ind., native (whose parents currently reside in Carmel) performs in the current Broadway cast of Avenue Q, but will hit the road for eight weeks to bring her roles of Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut back home.

Anderson is an easy conversationalist, happily relating her life’s course for over a half hour on the phone.

After graduating from New Castle Chrysler High School, she attended Butler University for two years as a vocal performance major. While at Butler, she also performed locally at Indianapolis Civic Theatre.

“I chose Butler because I liked the smaller program. But vocal performance really focuses on classical singing and a lot of opera and it wasn’t really suiting my kind of voice. My teacher there was telling me about schools that did musical theater — I didn’t even know you could major in something called musical theater!” Anderson laughs. She then transferred to the musical theater department at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., to finish her degree. “I got to take the acting and dancing and vocal classes that were more in the style of Broadway. And I realized the singing wasn’t the only part I loved. I loved playing a character. Even being shy, I guess I was a ham when I got on stage and I didn’t have to be myself — I could be someone else.”

Anderson performed with summer stock theaters while in college. Two of them were in Colorado, and she fell in love with the area. When she was offered a job at a dinner theater in Aspen after graduation, she gladly took it. But dinner theater wasn’t where her heart lay. “I knew I really wanted to try my hand and see if I could make it on Broadway,” Anderson says. “I knew I wanted the challenge of seeing if I could hang with the best of the best. So I got a U-Haul and drove to New York with one of my girlfriends I had met in summer stock and rented an apartment and we just started auditioning.”

It took Anderson two and a half years to get an elusive “big break,” which was booking as the understudy to Sophie in the national tour of Mamma Mia!

The break signaled a world of changes for Anderson. “My last couple of months on tour, right before I was about to get married, [Broadway’s casting agents for Mamma Mia!] called my agent and said we’d like to fly Carey to New York to audition for the actual role of Sophie in Mamma Mia! [Then] they called me and told me I’d booked the role. So I got married and debuted on Broadway all in the same week: I debuted on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005, did two shows Wednesday, one show Thursday, Friday morning I flew back to Indianapolis for my rehearsal dinner and we got married on Saturday. We had our miniature honeymoon in Indianapolis downtown on Sunday and then I flew back to do the shows starting on Wednesday. I still tell people I am glad that there were photographers at both events because I don’t really remember either one of them very well because I was just sort of floating on top of the world!”

Anderson’s life on the Broadway stage continued to catapult after landing Mamma Mia! Anderson played Sophie for three years, the longest anyone has played the role, and was then tapped for Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in the Broadway production of Avenue Q. Her run in the show began July 8, 2008. “It was just such a huge career move for me to get a second Broadway lead,” she says.

When the woman who plays the Kate/Lucy role in the touring production requested a leave of absence, Anderson was offered the chance to fill in for eight weeks. “I’m so excited to be going back out on tour, especially coming from doing the role here on Broadway, to be bringing it out to a broader audience,” Anderson says.

Getting your hands in there

In Avenue Q, Anderson plays Kate Monster, a young, idealistic Monster who yearns for love, and the catty Lucy the Slut, a trampy nightclub singer. “It’s so hard!” Anderson exclaims of portraying both characters on stage at the same time. “Honestly, if I think about it too much I would freak out and just get all confused. At one point they’re on stage together talking back and forth — twice! The first time it happens, I have Kate on my hand, the second time it happens I have Lucy on my hand, so not only does it happen twice, it’s the complete opposite way.

“It helps me to look at them when they’re speaking, because these puppets are amazing. The details that these puppets have! Lucy has a little gold chain that says ‘Lucy’ across it, she is wearing like five different rings, she has these huge red nails, giant cleavage, this big blond hair, a mole and all this makeup. You can get lost in [the puppets]. It is amazing how much they come alive just looking at them because they are so beautifully made.

“But it’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever done on stage trying to do these characters back and forth and to not get too lost in one side of the argument because you know you have to flip back to the other side of the argument. I had a friend come [to the show] and she was like, wow, it’s amazing because you’re playing your nemesis. I never thought of it that way, but it’s true. Kate’s nemesis is Lucy the Slut, and you’re playing both characters. It’s quite rewarding and challenging as an actor to be doing the most opposite characters on stage. Kate is as sweet as can be and Lucy is hard knock life; she’s been around the block a few times.”

While not all the characters are puppets, the puppets are a huge element of Avenue Q. Actors go to puppet school to learn how to manipulate and act with them. “Eight hours of training: lip-synching, matching your mouth to their mouth and focusing,” Anderson explains. “The puppet’s eyes are just set, they don’t blink or move around, they’re just these plastic things on the face. It’s hard to believe that after you’ve been watching the show — you’d swear that they’d been blinking and things, but they don’t. It’s literally just a mouth that opens and closes and some white eyes with black dots in the middle. But they come alive and that’s pretty much the lip-synching and the focus. You’re focusing on the different puppets when you’re on stage. When I’m playing a scene with Princeton, I don’t focus on the actor playing Princeton, I focus on the puppet. Actually, me and Kate will both look at Princeton. And it takes some time to learn to focus her eyes and my eyes. Or when I’m speaking to one of the actual living characters on stage, they’re always taller than me, usually, so you have to learn to tweak your wrist a little bit to find the exact place as to where their eyes are.”

While all shows require teamwork, having puppets on stage makes being a part of Avenue Q even more of a group effort. “It’s such an ensemble show — there is no star. Everyone is there helping each other out,” Anderson says. “I play a second hand in Trekkie Monster during one of the scenes in Act 2. And the guy who plays Princeton and Rob, he goes up and plays Trekkie Monster. That’s something the audience never sees. It’s a cool experience to work with a group of actors who are all supporting each other. You have to — it’s almost like choreography. And there’s a whole other show to be learned off stage, because I run off with Kate Monster and there’s a puppet wrangler waiting back stage with Lucy and she just holds her out, I take one [puppet] off, stick my arm in and go back on stage.

“If you are doing your job correctly, I think it works best if the audience forgets you’re there and starts watching the puppet and starts believing that all of the singing and all of the acting and all of the scene work is coming out of her and not me,” Anderson says.

Puppet pillow talk

“There is nothing even close to what this is, even on Broadway,” according to Anderson. Believing in the puppets, she says, allows the show to get away with more than a conventional show can. “The writers have really taken some liberties to push the envelope, to really challenge the audience to hear some things that they weren’t expecting to come out of a musical. And some of the language is just a little more foul … I don’t really want to say foul, but a little more realistic, a little more everyday. And the experiences aren’t what one would expect to happen when people break out into song and start singing and dancing. It’s real life. These puppets, it’s amazing what they can get away with, because they are so cute and so innocent looking and they just seem so naïve, that they could say these things that if we were just actors up there doing it we could never get away with it. I think the show would have been banned!” Anderson laughs.

“What I have found already in just my short time working on the show is that it’s so fascinating how [the puppets] can get away with something and people will laugh and not be offended, and then when the show takes a twist in the second act, you really, really fall in love with these characters and you start feeling for them; you’ve seen the struggles that they’ve gone through.”

While puppet sex and odes to porn are infamous parts of Avenue Q, it has a core story that just about anyone can relate to. “It’s not just about being funny. People go in thinking they’re going to laugh — and you do laugh; I’m still laughing at the jokes while I’m on stage doing them — but what gets you is there’s so much heart in the show, and the central focus of the show is finding your purpose in life, and we all are struggling with finding our purpose.”

But audiences do need to be warned that the show contains a feel-good message wrapped in the realities of life — and life is often dirty. “I’m pretty positive someone has walked out on every show we’ve done on Broadway. And it’s funny the thing that will set them off. There’s a whole song about racism, and some people will be laughing, laughing, laughing and then the puppets go and do their puppet sex and they leave,” Anderson says.

While Anderson has a special place in her heart — and hands — for Kate and Lucy, she also loves fellow Monster Trekkie: “He’s probably the one that’s the most vulgar and disgusting, but you really believe that he doesn’t realize that he’s wrong. He’s just honest. It’s just so adorable about these characters, because you can’t fault them if they say something that offends you because they don’t realize they’re offending you. It’s hard to get upset with them. He doesn’t ever think before he talks. He has his own laws and his own rules and he lives by them and he doesn’t understand why they wouldn’t be the way everyone else thinks.”

-Lisa Gauthier

The Puppets: Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut

Puppets as people

Rick Lyon, one of the original cast members, designed and made the puppets throughout Avenue Q’s development, and for its still-running productions on all stages. Both Lyon and Jeff Marx have worked for Sesame Street and both speak of Avenue Q as “an homage and love letter to Sesame Street.” And, though Lyon’s puppets are distinctly different from Jim Henson’s, the puppets share an affinity for engagement and realism unique to both these artists.

Everyone on and off stage relates to the puppets, not to the actors holding the puppets. Although Avenue Q is fictional, it has the feel of being someplace you actually might have visited. The residents are there because housing is affordable for the up-and-coming along with the been-there-done-that.

Lyon says Avenue Q “is about growing up and embracing life … It’s about getting jobs, paying rent, bad relationships and the unfairness of existence, told through the conventions of a cozy, familiar kids’ TV show turned on its head.”

The plot revolves around Princeton, a recent graduate with a BA in English. Soon after he finds an apartment on Avenue Q, his job de-materializes and he is stuck with questioning his purpose in life. His quest thus becomes the major storyline, surrounded by a clutch of social issues, including prejudices, following bad advice and noticing that there’s a world (and life) outside of oneself and “to be thinking about other people.”

NUVO recently had an e-mail interview with two residents of Avenue Q. Here are the thoughtful replies to the questions from Kate Monster — who is described by her neighbors as “a lovelorn kindergarten assistant, looking to open a school for monsters. She has tan fur, brown hair and blue eyes.” — and from Lucy T. Slut, who is curtly pictured as “a vixenish, slutty nightclub singer.”

Kate Monster

NUVO: What’s the best thing about living on Avenue Q?

Kate: I love the sense of community I share with all of my neighbors. It almost feels like a small little town while still living in New York City.

NUVO: What’s the hardest part about living on Avenue Q?

Kate: The commute to work.

NUVO: If you could live anywhere else, where would that be?

Kate: Hmm ... somewhere a little slower paced but with a lot of culture. It’s very important to me to share my Monster background with as many other types of people as possible.

NUVO: If you had time and money to travel — or someone offered you an opportunity to travel — where would you want to go?

Kate: I’ve always wanted to see Africa! Perhaps a safari.

NUVO: Who are your role models?

Kate: Hillary Clinton and Anais Nin.

NUVO: From your perspective, what are the issues presidential candidates should be addressing?

Kate: Well, most definitely school systems. The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow (and you can quote me on that). Children, no matter where they come from, should all have the same opportunities. It’s the only issue that I’m really focused on right now.

NUVO: What is your favorite book? Why?

Kate: Oh, I just love The Giving Tree. The message never gets old and it’s usually a favorite amongst any of the kids I’ve been lucky enough to teach!

NUVO: What is your favorite song? Why?

Kate: “I Have to Say I Love You in a Song,” a song Princeton put on a mix tape for me right before we went on our first date!

NUVO: If you could have dinner with a historical figure, whom would that be? Why?

Kate: It would probably be Eve Monster. I would just like to know what it was like for her being the first female on our earth. I’d love to know how she found a way to be both feminine and strong.

NUVO: What do you really think about Lucy T. Slut?

Kate: Well, I will say this: I do think people can change if given the opportunity. I just think Lucy must have come from a very “raw” past and never learned how to properly treat people. She could stand to learn some manners.

NUVO: What is the biggest challenge being a kindergarten assistant? What concerns you most about education for young children today?

Kate: You know, I truly love my job. I do. It’s just hard sometimes to not be able to do some of the things that I think might be a little “new age” while I’m assisting Mrs. T. She is very strict in her teaching method, and I don’t want to cause any troubles, but I think some of the students might not be understanding of some of her old fashioned techniques. The thing that concerns me the most about education is just the lack of team spirit amongst the students. Being a Monster, I am a bit sensitive to racism, but I do hope that with the growing diversity in our country today that young children can learn to love each other no matter their race, financial status or background.

Kate also added these additional thoughts:

I love Broadway musicals! But on the salary of a kindergarten teacher’s assistant, I can’t really afford them, so I go to the TKTS [discount] booth. I’ll see almost anything, but I refuse to see Young Frankenstein because I think it perpetuates terrible monster stereotypes.

For the most part, I don’t have a problem being a Person of Fur in NYC. Sometimes store clerks will watch me a little too closely, or guys will go out with me just to say they dated a Monster, or strangers will think it’s OK to just reach out and touch my fur, but most people are cool about it.

If I could I would start my own school where little Monsters could learn about Monster history and literature, and be proud of their Monster heritage.

Lucy the Slut

NUVO: What’s the best thing about living on Avenue Q?

Lucy: The housing is cheap.

NUVO: What’s the hardest part about living on Avenue Q?

Lucy: Everybody’s in your business.

NUVO: If you could live anywhere else, where would that be?

Lucy: Vegas, baby!

NUVO: If you had time and money to travel — or someone offered you an opportunity to travel — where would you want to go?

Lucy: Oh, probably one of those resorts where people slather baby oil all over your back for ya and you sit around a pool all day and eat frozen grapes.

NUVO: Who are your role models?

Lucy: Dolly Parton and Mae West. Oh, and that other blonde ... what’s her name? Marilyn Monroe!

NUVO: From your perspective, what are the issues presidential candidates should be addressing?

Lucy: Getting the clinics around here a little more spruced up and cheaper!

NUVO: What is your favorite book? Why?

Lucy: Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins. That man is a genius.

NUVO: What is your favorite song? Why?

Lucy: “Special” by Lucy T. Slut (me). I write from time to time and this one is a real hit with the gentlemen. I use it in my act, it just seems to touch in with a lot of people.

NUVO: If you could have dinner with a historical figure, who would that be? Why?

Lucy: Hugh Heffner. I just think we’d really hit it off. I’d love to give him a piece of my mind and I wouldn’t mind getting a piece of his.

NUVO: What do you really think about Kate Monster?

Lucy: She’s a sweet little thing; I mean no harm to her. I just don’t have much interest in women who don’t have a backbone or don’t come out and just tell it how it is. I think I could teach her a few things.

NUVO: What is the biggest challenge being in the entertainment industry? What concerns you most about the status of live entertainment?

Lucy: What I’ve always said is that you have to find your audience. You have to know what your audience wants and give it to ’em! The challenge is keepin’ it fresh! You don’t want some stale, washed up act that no one wants to see. The thing that concerns me is all of these pop tarts out there doing everything in a recording studio and ruining the hard work all of us broads are doing nightly on the small stage! “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, Britney!”

-Rita Kohn

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