Darren Bluestone has been performing with Avenue Q for over two-and-a-half years and 1,000 performances. He rang in the show's big 10th anniversary and, most recently, took part in the musical's 11th birthday at New World Stages — where audience members and the cast interacted via social media throughout the July 31 evening performance. His ties to the musical, however, stretch back even longer.
"I was like 15, and I saw Avenue Q, and I was obsessed with it," Bluestone explained. "My best friend and I went — and we saw [songwriters] Bobby [Lopez] and Jeff [Marx] in the audience and asked for their autograph and their picture."
Following their New York City excursion — back home in Santa Fe, NM — the two recorded karaoke videos at the New Mexico State Fair, and through the powers of social media, began his journey to Avenue Q. "My best friend put up this video on YouTube of me singing 'Purpose' along to this sock puppet, [which was] terrible," he continued, "and I got a Facebook message from Jeff Marx my junior year of high school."
Marx said, "I just saw your video, you're adorable, you're so sweet. I'm so happy that you enjoyed Avenue Q." The two became quick pen pals, but lost touch during Bluestone's college years at Carnegie Mellon University. After graduation, and back in New York City — this time to pursue "the dream" — Bluestone landed the leading puppet track in Q, now under the resident direction of John Tartaglia, the show's Tony-nominated original leading man. Bluestone said, "I told Johnny this story when he came on as our resident director, and he said, 'Oh my God, that's how I know you. Jeff Marx showed us this kid trying to sing "Purpose" when he was in high school and how adorable it was… That's how I recognize you. I've never met you before, but I've seen your video.' Of course that happened — I was a high-school kid and so obsessed with it, so it was wild — getting to be in the show.
"This unbelievable song that I'd known for so long — I was finally able to sing it with a puppet in the way that it's supposed to be sung, in the context that it's supposed to be sung," he continued. "It was amazing just to learn puppetry, to learn what it was like to be on that stage doing Q. It was such a whirlwind though because I learned the show in six days. I had six days of rehearsal, and then my first time running the show with lights, I had a half put-in, where half of the cast was there, so my first time 'running' the show was my first night. It was on Monday night, and it was f*cking insane, and then we collected for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS."
Within the first couple months of Bluestone's run, he was already making memories. Although he explained that celebrating the show's tenth anniversary was his fondest moment thus far over the course of his run, there's one time that sticks out as the most hysterical.
"It was my first month, and I was still learning everyone's name," he said, "and the one guy who I really talked a lot to was Mike [Liscio, Jr.] — he was one of the understudies, and he was on for one of the ensemble [tracks]… I had no time during the entire first act, but I have a little bit of a break during the beginning of 'The Internet is for Porn,' so I come off stage, and I [thought], 'I really got to go to the bathroom.' I rush backstage, and I start peeing, and I'm listening, and I'm peeing, and I'm like, 'My cue is coming up…'"
With little time to spare before greeting Kate Monster on stage for a small bit in "The Internet is For Porn," Bluestone cut things short and took to the New World stage.
"I rush backstage, and I put on the puppet, and I'm walking up, and I have a feeling that something has gone amiss… Mike is next to me, and I look down, and I've pissed my pants… I did not notice that I was unable to hold it as well as I thought, and I couldn't help but laugh at it. We start the song, and I'm singing, 'The internet is for… Sorry, Kate, I masturbate!,' and in between lines I look over… I'm nodding along with Rod and talking with Rod, but motioning to Mike, 'Help me! I'm dying.' He looks down and just burst out laughing.
"I go straight into the next scene with Christmas Eve and Rod. We finish 'Porn,' and I rush down, and I go on stage, and I do the entire scene with my back to the audience… I was so mortified that they would see grey pants and a darker grey stain, but apparently [Christmas Eve] didn't even notice — she thought I was having back problems! I finished the scene…and I rush offstage, and Mike is there holding the pants ready to have me jump in. I pull everything down…put the other pants on and walk back on stage as though nothing had happened. It was perfect. It was nice and seamless. Now it's very funny. I can laugh at it, although at the moment I was freaking out and laughing at the same time. It was a great way to learn who someone is the first month." His closest counterpart in Avenue Q, however, has been the puppet-man himself, Princeton (as well as his other puppet counterpart, Rod). "It's like having this celebrity on my hand… I mean, I owe my career, obviously, to Princeton so I want to keep him around and use him when I can," said Bluestone, who has made various gay pride appearances with Rod this summer, including a photo shoot at New World Stages and an onscreen appearance on MSNBC. He also recently took the puppet to 54 Below and (le) Poisson Rogue for the sold-out Broadway Sings Justin Timberlake concerts.
"LPR was great," said Bluestone. "I never sang there before. I'm glad I got to do that concert. I'm also happy that I was able to start with Princeton and then leave him and graduate to [a solo moment to show off] the fact that I could do both. I can puppeteer and also not puppeteer, but he's fun… I walked up on stage, and I didn't even do anything, and people were like, 'Oh my God! It's Princeton!' It's an iconic puppet now. I felt so honored, actually, to be a part of that group of people."
Aside from Q and concerts, Bluestone writes songs, assistant directed NYMF's award-winning The Gig and is turning an eye towards the production elements of theatre. "You have to make the work that you want to be in," he said, "and you have to support the work that you want to see."
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)