It's been over a year since I've spent any time on Avenue Q, and I'm happy to report that the neighborhood is in fine form. In fact, the Tony-winning musical, which features an almost entirely new cast, is still as wonderful a night in the theatre as one could hope. I had forgotten how much joy this show provides, with laugh after laugh after laugh as well as several moments that are completely moving. The current leads include Barrett Foa as Princeton/Rod (Foa departs July 2 for Spelling Bee) and Mary Faber as Kate/Lucy. Faber, who has been seen Off-Broadway in Junie B. Jones, Slut and The Tutor, is currently making her Broadway debut in the Jeff Marx-Robert Lopez-Jeff Whitty musical, and she finds all the comic moments in her roles, while providing Kate Monster with a gentle warmth and Lucy The Slut with the appropriate man-eating lust. I recently had the chance to chat with the talented actress, who seems to be loving her time in the supremely clever, hilarious, tuneful and often touching musical that is Avenue Q.
Question: How did the roles in Avenue Q come about for you?
Mary Faber: I started auditioning a couple of years ago. That was before [the show] won the Tony [for Best Musical] — it was when they were thinking of doing a tour, and then they ended up going to Vegas, so things went on hold for awhile. I auditioned eight or nine times before I ended up on Broadway.
Q: Had you been a fan of the show?
Faber: Oh yeah. I got the CD before I saw it, and I just loved it and kind of knew that it was for me. Then I went and I saw it, and I was like, "I have to be in it!" I liked it so much, [and] I identified with it so much.
Q: Did you have any puppeteering experience at that point?
Faber: Nope, I didn't. When I started, I had a friend who had a little bit of experience, and he was going through the auditioning process as well, so he gave me a crash course. Then I borrowed another friend's puppet for like two years, and just practiced on my own. Q: What was the process like learning how to work with the puppets? Who instructed you?
Faber: When I got cast, they sent me out to Vegas, and I studied with Rick Lyon for a few days, just to get the basics down. Then, I came back to New York, and for the next three or four weeks, Jen Barnhart took over and really helped me hone [my skills].
Q: What would you say is the most difficult part of working with the puppet?
Faber: Well, I would say there are two things that are kind of equal. The first one is just the physical challenge that it can be — it's really light at first, but then just holding it for two hours can get pretty heavy — just developing all those puppet muscles, I like to call 'em. [Laughs.] That took a couple months. But, also, you have to share the performance with what is essentially a piece of fabric and bring it life, and that is a really cool challenge as an actor.
Q: Has working with the puppets become second nature to you now?
Faber: Yeah, each week I find something new. It's kind of like becoming fluent in a language. I was at conversational [level], now I'm close — I'm not fluent by any means — but every week I learn a new gesture or I discover something, some way to convey Kate or Lucy's feelings.
Q: Who would you say you identify with more, Kate or Lucy?
Faber: [Laughs.] I would have to say Kate. . . . She has it more together than Princeton at the point that Avenue Q is happening . . . but she's looking for love and she's just trying to pursue her dreams and make a difference, and I think a lot of girls really identify with Kate and the heartbreak that she goes through and how she makes the decision to stick to her guns and continue on that search for love and happiness.
Q: Your speaking voice as Kate in the show is very similar to [original Kate/Lucy] Stephanie D'Abruzzo's. Was that something you were asked to do, or how much leeway were you given in creating your characters?
Faber: [Director] Jason [Moore] was really, really good about just saying, "Make this your own." I've actually [heard] a couple times that my speaking voice sounds a little bit like Stephanie's, and I don't think that's a conscious choice. I think my voice tends to sit up there anyway, which might have been a reason why they thought I was good for [the roles]. But nobody was like, "Please copy Stephanie. We want this by the book." It was one of those things where I came in, and I had a pretty big pair of shoes to fill, so I took what I loved about Stephanie and then also added aspects of my own.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Kate or Lucy?
Faber: I like "Fantasies Come True" for Kate. I love how elated she is — she's so filled up with "I finally found it! This is really it!" As we later learn, it's not necessarily as perfect as she dreams it to be, but I just love that place that she's at.
Q: Avenue Q marks your Broadway debut. Has the reality of Broadway lived up to whatever your dream of it might have been?
Faber: I had been in New York working as an actor, doing Off-Broadway and readings for awhile and interacting with people who were already on Broadway, so I kind of got a sense of what I was to expect . . . . I knew that it's a real challenge, physically, vocally, mentally to maintain a performance eight times a week. I was gearing myself up for that. I think when you're a little kid and you see Broadway stars, you think that they're really glamorous and very rich and fancy, and we're not. [Laughs.] But the one thing that I didn't expect as a kid that I'm loving right now — and maybe it's just my show, but I've found it in the Broadway community as well — that sense of community. People aren't backstabbing. It's not like the movies — people are really supportive and genuine. When you put a lot of theatre types [together], there's definitely a lot of drama, but I think at the heart of it, it's really cool to know that there's such a support network here, and I love being a part of that.
Q: Why do think Avenue Q remains so popular? What about the show appeals to people?
Faber: I think the thing about Avenue Q is even though it deals with young adults coming to the city, [everyone can enjoy it]. My grandma came and saw it, and I was so afraid she was going to be scandalized by naked puppets, but she thought it was really sweet. At the heart it's a really touching, wholesome show, but it's also really hip. I think through word of mouth, it's one of the shows where people say, "If you're going to see anything, go see Avenue Q."
Q: Going back a little in time, where you born and raised?
Faber: I was born in Greenville, North Carolina, but I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia.
Q: When did you start performing?
Faber: I started with a children's theatre group when I was ten years old.
Q: When do you think you knew that this would be your career?
Faber: I knew pretty early on. I couldn't stop wanting to audition for everything. My parents would be like, "You can't. You have to take a break and focus on school." Early on, I just knew that this was really what I wanted to do.
Q: When did you come to New York?
Faber: I came to New York right after I graduated from college [in September 2001]. I went to Brandeis University.
Q: Did you perform at college?
Faber: They have a great graduate program and a great undergraduate program, but the performing opportunities on the mainstage were more for the graduates, but they have such great student-run groups. I did a lot of stuff with [those groups], but I also did improv . . . . I had considered myself a very serious actress. [Laughs.] I went to Interlochen and studied Shakespeare, and then I started improv comedy, and it was so much fun, and I think it really helped me develop some of the skills I use in Avenue Q.
Q: What was your first professional job once you came to New York?
Faber: My first job was with . . . a children's theatre touring company. We did Judy Blume's Sheila the Great. . . . Then I did some summer stock. It took me a couple years before I started getting things Off-Broadway, fringe stuff and readings.
Q: Do you have any other projects in the works now?
Faber: I've done some original pieces that are in various stages of development. We just did another reading of Feeling Electric, which is just an amazing show that was at the NYMF Festival. I wasn't a part of that, but I had done it in Seattle. There's a couple projects, but [I] have to wait and see — Princesses, I did out in Seattle as well.
Q: How long do you think you'll stay with Avenue Q?
Faber: I'm there for a while. I'm quite happy where I'm at . . . . I'm really aware of how lucky I am, so I'm not running away anytime soon!
[Avenue Q plays the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street; call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.]
In the late seventies, Evita made stars out of its two leading ladies: Elaine Paige in London and Patti LuPone on Broadway. The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, perhaps the best creation by the composing duo, is now back in London for its first major revival since the original London production. An Argentine actress named Elena Roger landed the coveted title role, and she officially opened at the Adelphi Theatre June 21. I thought you'd be interested to read what a few of the London critics had to say about Roger's performance in Evita, which is directed by Michael Grandage.
Charles Spencer in The Telegraph: "Elena Roger's tiny and apparently frail Evita dominates the stage with tremendous presence, a wonderfully expressive mouth and eyes and a strong, sometimes rough-edged voice. In short she has exactly the star quality the role requires."
Benedict Nightingale in The London Times: "Roger is Argentinian herself and quite a revelation. Philip Quast's Perón looms over her like a brontosaurus over a stick-insect, but, whether she's shimmering in triumph or preparing for a poignant death, it's Roger who commands the stately marble and elegant iron fretwork of Christopher Oram's set. She has a grin the size of her body, and it can look flirtatious, sassy, voracious or delighted, depending on circumstances. There's also a brashness in her voice, at times so jarring that I thought my ears were being attacked with an electric screwdriver - but then again, wasn't that Evita? She can also dance, and should dance more, for the show's variations on the tango are another strength."
Michael Billington in The Guardian: "But the show is certainly a great vehicle and the Argentinian Elena Roger rides it in modest triumph. She is slight of stature, has expressive eyes and teeth and dances with real verve. She occupies the stage by right rather than default and captures all of Eva's iron-willed determination. But, while her voice pleases, it doesn't have the clarion ring of Elaine Page or the lyric intensity of Julie Covington and what you gain in Latin American authenticity you sometimes lose in comprehensibility."
Paul Taylor in The Independent: "The piece not only survives but thrives on the violent eruption of reality that comes in the diminutive shape of Elena Roger. As she charts the anti-heroine's progress from trashy opportunist to second wife (and First Lady) of the fascist Juan Peron and then to folk saint, Roger is simply sensational." Michael Coveney for Whatsonstage.com: "Roger hits the heights in all the right places, exuding a firm interior charm as well as a knowing, calculated aura that's new to the role. Tiny as a bird, she soars to the challenge. And she dances magnificently, buoyed along by a superbly drilled chorus and some genuinely breathtaking moments of ensemble staging. There's no more exciting performance in London: a truly great musical has been famously restored."
In its new home at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, the Storefront will present Memories of Laurie: The Storefront Sings Beechman. The tribute to the late, great actress, whose Broadway credits include Annie, Cats and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, will be presented July 9 and 16 at 7 PM. The concerts will feature songs that were performed and recorded by Beechman during her award-winning career. Those scheduled to take part in the evenings include Lisa Asher, Becca Ayers, Nick Cearley, Donna Lynne Champlain, Brandon Cutrell, Sarajean Devenport, Natalie Douglas, Henry Krieger, Liz McCartney, Lanny Meyers, Kate Pazakis, Jana Robbins, Julie Reyburn, Ric Ryder, Kate Shindle and Gabrielle Stravelli. The Laurie Beechman Theatre is located at 407 West 42nd Street at Ninth Avenue. There is a $16 cover charge and a $15 food/drink minimum. Call (212) 695-6909 for reservations between the hours of noon and 8 PM.
Frances Ruffelle, who created the role of Eponine in the London and Broadway productions of Les Misérables, has rescheduled her upcoming Manhattan concert appearance. Originally scheduled to play The Supper Club on June 26, the Tony Award-winning actress will now play the intimate club on West 47th Street on July 10. (An encore performance will be offered July 17.) Backed by the George Gee Big Band, Ruffelle will offer an evening of Big Band favorites, show tunes, pop songs and standards. Show time is 8:45 PM; doors open at 7:30 PM. The change of date is due to Ruffelle's recent casting in the forthcoming West End revival of Over Here. That musical, which will also feature Tony winner Donna McKechnie, will begin London previews in November. The Supper Club is located in Manhattan at 240 West 47th Street. Tickets, priced at $65, are available by calling (212) 352-3101.
Veteran performer and society figure Kitty Carlisle Hart will bring her acclaimed one-woman show to North Hollywood audiences this summer. From Aug. 4-6 Hart will regale audiences at the El Portal Theatre with stories about the people she has worked with throughout her lengthy career. The singer-actress will also offer tunes by Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill. David Lewis, Hart's musical director, will accompany her on piano. Show times are Aug. 4 and 5 at 8 PM and Aug. 6 at 3 PM. The El Portal Theatre is located at 5269 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, CA.
A host of Tony-winning and Tony-nominated actors will take part in the annual "Broadway Under the Stars" concert June 26 at Central Park's Great Lawn. Jeff Calhoun will direct the 8 PM concert, which will pay tribute to legendary theatre director and producer Harold Prince. Those scheduled to lend their voices to the evening include Michael Arden, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Clay, Manoel Felciano, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Donna McKechnie, Matthew Morrison, Anika Noni Rose, Kelli O'Hara, Elaine Stritch, Lee Ann Womack, Michael Cerveris, John Cullum, Christine Ebersole, Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley, Brian d’Arcy James, Jane Krakowski, Rebecca Luker and Bebe Neuwirth as well as the Tony-winning Jersey Boys. Fireworks will follow the performance. Those attending should enter the park at West 81st Street at Central Park West or East 79th Street at Fifth Avenue. For more information visit broadwayunderthestars.com.
Care to catch some vintage Christine Ebersole? "Ryan's Hope," which airs late nights on the SoapNet cable channel, is currently featuring episodes that ran in 1980 when the Tony-winning actress made some of her first television appearances as the ditsy Lily Darnell. Ebersole, of course, will reprise her award-winning work in Grey Gardens when the hit Off-Broadway musical begins performances on Broadway Oct. 3 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.