DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Avenue Q's Ann Harada Plus News of Buckley and York

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Avenue Q's Ann Harada Plus News of Buckley and York
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Ann Harada
Ann Harada Photo by Bruce Alan Johnson

ANN HARADA
Avenue Q fans recently received some good and bad news. On the negative side, it was announced earlier this week that the joyous, Tony-winning musical, which celebrates its sixth anniversary on Broadway at the end of the month, will play its final performance at the John Golden Theatre Sept. 13. On the plus side, however, is the terrific news that stellar singing actress Ann Harada, who created the role of Christmas Eve, will return to the production July 6. That day will also mark the arrival of Anika Larsen (Xanadu, All Shook Up, Rent) as Q's new Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, Robert McClure (I'm Not Rapport) as Princeton/Rod and Danielle K. Thomas as Gary Coleman. Harada was one of the many aspects that helped propel Q to its Tony-winning success; in fact, when I first interviewed the Broadway artist back in 2004, I wrote, "Audiences know they're going to have a good time at Avenue Q as soon as the Tony-winning musical begins, but I think they realize they're going to have a terrific time once Ann Harada takes to the stage as Christmas Eve and announces, 'It sucka-sucka-sucka-sucka-sucka- sucka-sucka-sucka sucka-sucka-sucka-sucka suck! It suck to be me.' Not only a gifted comedic actress, Harada also possesses one of the best voices in the show, a rangy, powerful belt that she controls with astonishing precision. Harada also scores in all her onstage moments, whether she's berating her unemployed husband, tossing Nicky out of her apartment, advising Republican investment banker Rod or belting out her second-act showstopper, 'The More You Ruv Someone.'" Last week, just a few days before the Q closing announcement was made, I had the chance to again chat with the good-humored performer, who was recently seen on Broadway in the new musical 9 to 5. Harada, who had just returned from a piano lesson for her four-and-a-half-year-old son Elvis, spoke about leaving 9 to 5 to return to the show that she says put her "on the map"; that interview follows.

Question: Before we get to Avenue Q, let's talk a bit about 9 to 5. How did you get involved in that production originally?
Harada: I auditioned for the role of Roz. Kathy Fitzgerald got it, and I was like, "Okay, great," and then I didn't think about it at all. Then, out of the blue, they called me and offered me [the role of] Kathy and said that I would cover Allison Janney, and I said, "Oh, okay, great." It sounded like a great challenge, so I said, "Sure!"

Question: Did you ever get to go on for Janney?
Harada: No, no. She has not missed [a performance] to date.

Question: Did you get to work with Dolly Parton at all?
Harada: Oh, yeah. She was around during all of our previews, so she was there and she rewrote a bunch of things from L.A. to New York. She was definitely around and we got to sing her stuff for her, and she was wonderful. I highly recommend it, to ever be in a room with her… take that opportunity. She's fantastic. She's just like what everybody says she is — super down-to-earth and very lovely.

Tory Ross, Ann Harada and Neil Haskell in 9 to 5
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Did your part or the show change much from out-of-town to Broadway?
Harada: The show changed significantly from Los Angeles to New York. In L.A. I started a song — it was a little bit more of a feature, but I knew that the song was probably gonna get cut. [Laughs.] And it was, and it was not a big surprise. Question: What was the song called?
Harada: It was called "Tattletale." It was an office gossip song basically establishing how much everybody didn't like Doralee.

Question: When you were approached to return to Avenue Q, was it a difficult decision to leave a new musical?
Harada: It was a difficult decision in the sense that we had just opened it — although I felt like I had been in it already for so long because we started last summer. That was the hard part — the whole point, really, of doing it was to have the experience of being in a big show for a long time. And then it was like, "Well, we did all the hard work of putting it up and changing it a million times, and this should just be the fun part of doing the run … and buh-bye!" [Laughs.] So that was the bummer of it. Also, we'd sort of been plagued by injuries, so we've basically had nothing but put-ins and a lot of rehearsing. I knew that if I left, there would just be more of that. . . . But it was also that I couldn't say no to the opportunity to go back to Avenue Q. It's my part. It's the part that I originated and love, and I just thought, "Well, it'll be amazing. I haven't been in it in three years. This is my time." And, it was all fine. Everybody was very gracious.

Question: Have you started rehearsals yet for Avenue Q?
Harada: I have.

Question: How have they been?
Harada: Well, it was just one day. My first day was yesterday… but it was great. It's gonna be fantastic.

Question: Is there anything that you've forgotten that surprised you? How much did you have to go back and study the songs?
Harada: Yes, lots of things that I'd forgotten that surprised me! I think part of the confusion for me, too, is that the last time I did [the show] was in London, which was a different version. We had changed it a little bit for London. And then to come back and go, "Oh, I sing this part?" or, "Oh, I remember that gag." It's been a little like, "Oh, I don't remember doing that. Oh…okay!" [Laughs.] But it's going great. Everybody's terrific. I'm excited to play it with new people.

Question: You're going in with a pretty much new cast, right?
Harada: Half are new. Anika [Larsen] and Rob [McClure], although he did it on Broadway for a little while but on a different track, and Danielle Thomas from the tour.

Question: Who from the original Avenue Q cast is still in the show?
Harada: Just me and Jen [Barnhart].

Question: What does Jen say about the show now? Is she at all tired of doing her roles?
Harada: I think if she was tired of it she would have left. [Laughs.] I think she feels just as strongly about the show as she ever did. I think we all feel pretty strongly about that show. It's really hard not to be at Avenue Q in a way because it meant so much to us all. To me it's one of my first really big jobs that kind of put me on the map in a lot of ways. Having done it with a couple of different companies, I just know what that show is and how it works and what it means to people. Everyday people come up to me and tell me about when they saw Avenue Q, so I know that it's significant. I don't know, it just means something to people.

Question: When you guys were first getting it together for Off-Broadway, did you ever think that the musical would still be playing and coming up on its sixth Broadway anniversary?
Harada: Of course not. [Laughs.] We just wanted to open at the Vineyard!

Ann Harada in Avenue Q
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: Why do you think it has had such longevity?
Harada: Because it's completely relevant. I don't think there's a person who lives in New York who doesn't understand what that's like — to move here and to be naïve and to not really know what they want to do but know that they want to be here. We've all, at some point, had to figure out what our purpose in life is. We've all had to figure out how to be young and survive … it's just completely universal. Question: And they've kept the George Bush line in. . .
Harada: Yes! [Laughs.] We can't shake him!

Question: Does that still get a big laugh?
Harada: Apparently. I haven't seen the show since they changed it to "George Bush was only for now." But apparently it got a bigger response than anything else they tried. [Laughs.]

Question: A few years back you did a great cabaret show at the Ars Nova. Have you ever thought about doing more cabaret evenings?
Harada: I have. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to whip something together for later this year. It just hasn't been a top priority, what with Elvis and all.

Question: What was it like for you doing a show on your own versus being a character in a musical?
Harada: I think it's always easier to be a character. I think every actor feels that way. But it's great — it's just storytelling of a different kind; I really like it. What I love about it is that it gives me the chance to perform with people that I wouldn't ordinarily get to perform with. I enjoy both forms very much, but I far prefer doing scripted shows.

Question: How have you managed to combine being a mom to Elvis and doing eight shows a week?
Harada: I feel like I am just getting by at every point in my life. I never feel like, "I have mastered this." Also, I am the luckiest person alive. I have my parents living with me, who are available to do all the heavy lifting. Because of my schedule being so weird and so random, it's just a huge load off of my mind. I realize that not every parent has that luxury, and I'm incredibly grateful.

Question: They even came with you to London, right?
Harada: They did, yeah.

Question: What's your first date in Avenue Q?
Harada: July 6.

Question: How long will you stay with it?
Harada: 'Til there is no more Avenue Q!

Question: Was there any talk of any of the other original cast coming back?
Harada: There was always talk. It was always speculation. I just had to say to myself, "I loved my original cast, and I would have loved to be reunited with them in some way, but if for whatever reason it just didn't work out, scheduling or commitment, I just had to think, 'Okay.'" [Laughs.] This is the opportunity that I have been given, and I'm really excited to be a part of it again.

Question: How did London audiences react to Avenue Q?
Harada: They loved it.

Question: Was there anything that they laughed at differently than New York audiences?
Harada: It was pretty much the same. Seriously, the laughs were absolutely the same. We were so worried they weren't going to get so many of those little in-jokes. And we did change some of the jokes, but it was so minor. We had to change "Korean deli" to "Chinese restaurant," because they didn't have Korean delis. We had to change Long Island Iced Tea to Absinthe Daiquiri. Little things.

Question: Do you think that your take on the character has changed at all since you started?
Harada: Oh God, I hope so! I just feel like she's going to be more myself than she's ever been in a way.

Question: What do you mean?
Harada: As I've gotten older, I just appreciate her so much more… her honesty and her spontaneity. I'm hoping to bring as much of that as I possibly can into the character when I have another shot at it.

Question: I'm looking forward to going back again. I haven't seen the show in a couple years.
Harada: I think you'll find, as I found — of course, everybody brings their own spin to the character — essentially everybody is embodying that same feeling of what that's like to not really know what you're doing and just keep floundering around and hang out with your friends and just try to make sense of it. I think it's timeless and fantastic. You'll see what I mean. As I've seen different casts play it out, I'm always amazed at how successful it is with every different cast. Question: Have you ever seen it from the audience?
Harada: Oh, many times.

Question: What it like for you seeing someone else play the part you created?
Harada: I enjoy it thoroughly. [Laughs.] You know, it's really flattering to think, "Oh look somebody's doing this joke, and not the same way I do it, but with their own spin on it!" But it's fantastic. It's so gratifying that that piece works. It just works. It doesn't matter. They've done it all over the world and they've had to change it for each different production, and it still plays! It's got its own life way beyond what we brought to it originally. It's just a great show. Now that I've been out of it for a while I appreciate it so much.

[Avenue Q plays the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street; for more information visit www.avenueq.com. For tickets call (212) 239-6200 or go to www.telecharge.com.]

Betty Buckley

DIVA TIDBITS
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley will offer a Song Interpretation Workshop in July and August at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center in Fort Worth, TX. Presented by Imagination Celebration, the six-session course will kick off Tuesday, July 14. Classes, which last four or five hours, begin at 6:30 PM. Auditors who participate in all aspects of the class except the individual singing are also welcome. The classes will be held at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center in the Museum District at 1300 Gendy Street, Fort Worth, TX. Prospective participants should call (940) 300-4944 or email marjorie@unt.edu for further details and to arrange an interview. For more information visit www.bettybuckley.com or www.icfw.org. Cabaret singer Klea Blackhurst will reprise her Ethel Merman tribute, Everything the Traffic Will Allow: The Songs and Sass of Ethel Merman, for New York audiences at the Snapple Theater Center. Blackhurst, who received the 2002 Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Award for Best Female Vocalist for Traffic, will offer her Merman evening Saturdays, July 18 and 25; Aug. 1, 8, 22 and 29; and Sept. 5 at the Manhattan venue. All shows begin at 5 PM. Blackhurst will be accompanied by the Pocket Change Trio. The Snapple Theater Center is located in Manhattan at 210 West 50th Street. Tickets, priced $35 and $45, are available by calling (212) 921-7862 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

Casting is now complete for the upcoming production of the Stephen Schwartz musical Godspell, which begins performances July 13 at the St. Louis Muny, the nation's oldest and largest outdoor theatre. Directed by Jen Bender and choreographed by Darren Lee, the cast will be headed by Eric Kunze as Jesus and Demond Green as Judas/John the Baptist. The company will also feature Uzo Aduba, Adam Kantor, Chelsea Krombach, Tracy McDowell, Orville Mendoza, Ruth Pferdihirt, Rashida Scott and Chris Spaulding. Performances continue through July 19. For more information call (314) 361-1900, ext. 550 or visit www.muny.org.

Rachel York

Rachel York, the singing actress who starred in the recent world premiere of Turn of the Century, will go it solo at The Inner Circle at the Magic Castle in Hollywood later this month. York will offer For the Love of It July 26 and 27 at 8 PM. Cabaretgoers can expect "an evening of stories and song including favorites from the stage, screen, and American Songbook." The Inner Circle at the Magic Castle is located at 7001 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, CA. For tickets, priced $40 (non-members), call (323) 851-3313, ext. 434. Small Pond Entertainment and Stephanie Rosenberg will present a benefit concert for the Humane Society July 20 at Don't Tell Mama. Entitled Broadway Meows, the 7 PM evening will feature the songs of composer/lyricist Seth Bisen-Hersh. Bisen-Hersh will be joined onstage by Brian Childers, Jenna Coker-Jones, Kimberly Faye Greenberg, Westley Todd Holiday, Autumn Hurlbert, Christopher Kale Jones, Caitlin Kinnunen, Mary Orzano, Zach Reiner-Harris, Brandon Ruckdashel and Darryl Winslow. The evening will feature pet-themed songs as well as songs about New York and relationship hardships; expect to hear "So You Wanna be Feline," "The Fag Hag Lament," "I'd Rather Take a Nap," "This is Awkward," "I Like Big Girls!" and "Hey!" Don't Tell Mama is located in Manhattan at 343 West 46th Street; there is a $20 cover and a two-drink minimum (cash only). For reservations call (212) 757-0788 or visit donttellmamanyc.com.

Songwriters Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, most recently represented Off-Broadway with the family-friendly musical Dear Edwina, will return to the famed jazz club Birdland in a few weeks. The latest installment of The Marcy and Zina Show will be presented July 20. The 7 PM concert will feature Jill Abramovitz, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Mike Croiter, MaryAnn McSweeney and special guest Clinton Kelly. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. Tickets are priced $30 with a $10 food/drink minimum; call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.BirdlandJazz.com for reservations.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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