DIVA TALK: Chatting with Avenue Q's Christy Carlson Romano; CDs of "LuPone at Les Mouches" and 13

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Avenue Q's Christy Carlson Romano; CDs of "LuPone at Les Mouches" and 13
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Christy Carlson Romano
Christy Carlson Romano

The joyous, often hilarious Tony-winning musical at the Golden Theatre, Avenue Q, has a new leading lady. Christy Carlson Romano — who created the role of Mary Phagan in Jason Robert Brown's Parade and who played a lengthy stint as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast — returned to Broadway at the end of September in the dual roles of the charmingly shy Kate Monster and the lusty, man-stealing Lucy, which were both originally created by Tony nominee Stephanie D'Abruzzo. Romano, an Emmy nominee for her performance in the title role of the animated Disney series "Kim Possible," is scheduled to stay with the award-winning Jeff Marx-Robert Lopez musical through Nov. 23. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with the good-spirited Romano, who has been performing since she was six years old; that interview follows.

Question: How did this engagement in Avenue Q come about for you?
Christy Carlson Romano: We were in the middle of the strike, and I got a call. I was basically looking for work, and my people were like, "We came across this really great opportunity for you. What do you think about it?" And I was like, "Are you kidding me?" The opportunity to go back to Broadway was a really, really great idea, so here I am. . . . The audition was really interesting. I never had really touched a puppet [before].

Christy Carlson Romano with Avenue Q's Lucy
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Question: Had you seen the show before the audition?
Romano: Yes, I was able to see it once. I said, "Look, I have no idea what I'm doing. You have to let me see the show." [Laughs.] Ironically my agent in L.A. is also puppeteer agent. She suggested that I hold my hand up and talk to work on my lip-synching. It was a really great idea because not only did it train me to not shake during the audition, but it really helped my lip-synching. Question: Once you got the part, what was the rehearsal process like? Did the show send you to study puppeteering?
Romano: [The show has] been on for a while and so many people have come through that I learned through everybody else. Everyone else around me knew what they were doing, so I sort of just caught it very quickly. It was really a seamless kind of rehearsal process. I had a great time. Everyday I looked forward to coming to work. I knew that this was definitely something very different for me. It's something I've never done before. I love going to work!

Question: How long did you have rehearsing?
Romano: I had about three-and-a-half weeks. Question: That's pretty fast to learn the show and to learn how to use the puppets.
Romano: Yeah, it was. It's fairly quick, and I asked, "Guys, are you sure I'm ready?" And they said, "Yeah, absolutely." And I was like, "Okay, cool!" [Laughs.]

Question: What was your first night like onstage?
Romano: I didn't mess up. I hadn't been in front of an audience since Belle [in Beauty and the Beast], so it was really like, "Oh, my God, I can't believe I'm actually doing this." And I hadn't been in front of an audience when we were rehearsing, so it was an adrenaline rush, I can tell you that much. I really was focused on hitting all my marks, and I did.

Christy Carlson Romano and Kate Monster in Avenue Q
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: Do you have a preference for playing Kate or Lucy?
Romano: It seems like Lucy is the one I enjoy doing, but I love Kate Monster. Both characters are at completely different ends of the spectrum in terms of feminism. Each of them is representative of a stereotype in our society. I have always played the kind of girl that everyone can relate to. I think that, as an actress, it's really fun to branch out, and Lucy gives you the ability nightly to do something completely different. Even with my voice, she kind of pulls it down. She's very, very low, so it's just very fun. She's a great character. Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for either of the characters?
Romano: I do, I do. My favorite for Lucy and Kate is when . . . I have to speak for both of them when they're both onstage, which is really interesting. They're called the crossovers. I cross over with one puppet, but I'm speaking for the other while I'm walking from one side of the stage to the other behind the stage. I'm doing a monologue and [the microphone is] picking me up, and I've never done anything or seen anything like that before, so it's really interesting. But my favorite moment is when the penny hits Lucy in the head, and she dies. [Laughs.] I'm like, "That is genius!" . . . It's like, "Oh man karma's a bitch." [Laughs.]

Question: You also get to sing what I think is the best song in the show, "There's a Fine, Fine Line."
Romano: It is really a great song. I auditioned with that and "Special." That song, to me, at the time was just a really personal song. Every night I get to sing that. It's just such an important song for a girl to sing. [Laughs.] Every song is a lesson, and that lesson is a very important lesson for people to learn about relationships. There is a fine line between friendship and love, and I think that Kate is such a romantic and she has so much integrity and respect for herself that she breaks up with Princeton, so that she can hold that line. And, that's quite a lesson to learn. That's the beauty of Avenue Q. You think that it's just puppets, but … my publicist came and said, "I forgot there is so much heart." I was like, "There is. There's a lot of heart in [the show]."

Question: My next question was going to be, why do you think the show has remained such a crowd-pleaser? Do you think its heart is a big part of it?
Romano: Perhaps. Yeah, the integrity of the show and the fact that it works on so many levels, I think, really helps. I've seen that in different projects that I've been able to be a part of, like "Kim Possible" and "Even Stevens." A lot of my projects are accessible to families and to people of many different ages. I think that Avenue Q does the same thing because it's so funny. It's just a cult classic, and anyone can come and laugh at the same things. That's a really unique experience in the theatre. . . . Everybody laughs at the puppet sex, and everybody laughs at the George Bush line. People really unite. That's a special experience, and it's been going on for five years. It's a great show.

Question: Speaking of the George Bush line, do you know if there are any plans to alter it next month after the presidential election?
Romano: I don't think there is at this point. I'm sure they will alter it. [Director] Jason [Moore] and [co-creator] Bobby [Lopez] are very connected to the show. They were at my opening night, so I'm sure they're already thinking about it. They're such geniuses, I'm sure they'll come up with something real quick.

Question: Is Jeff Marx still involved as well?
Romano: Yes, they all are.

Christy Carlson Romano as Beauty and the Beast's Belle
photo by Ondrea Barbe

Question: Since we've never spoken before, I wanted to go back a bit. Where were you born and raised?
Romano: I was born and raised in Milford, Connecticut. When I was six years old, I hopped on a train with my mom and started commuting back and forth to start my career. I went to Professional Children's School in the city. Question: How old were you when you attended the school?
Romano: I guess sixth grade. Before that it was kind of rough. I was on a couple of different national tours. I did Will Rogers Follies. I started with Annie at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, and then I went to Will Rogers Follies with Keith Carradine.

Question: How old were you at that time?
Romano: I was eight. I was a swing. I was a working swing for three other characters. I was in that for a year-and-a-half and then went to The Sound of Music. I played Marta. I believe I was 11.

Question: That was the tour?
Romano: Yeah. And then I did Ruthless in summer stock. I continued to work, and then my next big chapter was doing Parade. I did a lot of independent movies around New York [with] independent filmmakers like Hal Hartley. I did "Everyone Says I Love You" with Woody Allen. I did another movie where I had leukemia, with Armand Assante, called "Looking For an Echo." And then Parade happened. After Parade Livent went bankrupt, and they closed. My mom and I took the money [I had made]. I was 14 at the time. We went to L.A., and that's when I booked the pilot for "Even Stevens." A year later, on my 16th birthday, was the day that we started shooting "Even Stevens."

Christy Carlson Romano with Brent Carver in Parade
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Going back to Parade, was that your Broadway debut?
Romano: Yeah, that was my Broadway debut. Question: What was that experience like?
Romano: It was great. Lincoln Center is very different from working in a small Broadway theatre. I had gone to high school up there, at PCS, but at that time I wasn't going to PCS, I was going to a high school in Connecticut. So it was really funny, because I would end up going back to PCS and graduating from there. Parade was great. Jason Robert Brown is amazing. We still talk because we share a stage door. I was 13 when I had done Parade, so he's like, "This is so funny that now you're all grown up, and now I'm working with a bunch of 13-year-olds. How time flies!" Jason Robert Brown, Alfred Uhry and Hal [Prince]… I was so blessed to work with them. I had a principal role, and it was a memorable role, and I'm on the soundtrack. I didn't know at the time how amazing it was. I was so young, but now I come back to theatre and I'm like, "That was pretty amazing."

Question: Have you had a chance to see 13 yet?
Romano: I thought it was great. Jason's music is always epic. It's always memorable and very beautiful and very catchy. It's funny because his elements are there. He has this blues element in his music always. I remember hearing that he had started [his career playing] in a piano bar and in the cabaret world. I find that he has a touch of that in his [music]. He has the blues and the soul and the cabaret, and I think that's what people enjoy from modern musicians. The modern ear is so used to hearing hip hop and hearing so many bluesy elements in their everyday music — that's what I think makes Jason very accessible to people of all ages.

Question: You've been performing since you were a little kid. Do you feel that you missed out on anything from your childhood?
Romano: No. I used to. When I was growing up and I was angsty, I would sort of feel like I didn't like being different. Now I look back and I see all of these amazing experiences that I've had. I got to meet multiple presidents at one time, and I got to travel the country twice by the time I was 17, and I would never take that back for a million years. And I worked, and I earned it. Kids generally have to do mundane things and be bored in their life. I never knew what it was to be bored. I'm grateful.

Question: Was your mom a performer at one time?
Romano: Believe it or not, nobody has been a performer [in my family]. I think my great great uncle is Red Skelton... People always ask me, "Are you related to Ray Romano?" And I'm like, "No." [Laughs.] I actually came out of the theatre the other night, and somebody said, "Hey, I love your dad!"

Question: Do you have a preference for TV or theatre?
Romano: I think right now I'm very into theatre, but I also love TV. In TV you get paid very well, and you have a set schedule. It's 12 hours a day, and it's just a whole different experience. Theatre is unlike any other medium. You get that instant gratification, and it's pretty cool. You get the adrenaline rush. You don't get that [with TV] because you know you can mess up and start over again. It puts that much more perspective on your actual acting ability. Question: Talking about the kids that are in 13, what advice would you give to young performers?
Romano: I think those kids are super-talented. I've met them. When I went over there, Jason asked me to go down and speak with them. I just checked in and said, "Hey, what's up guys? I'm next door if you ever want to hang out or ask me any questions." I know how it is to be at that age and to be working with so many other kids. To have all those weird questions and the hormones raging and, on top of that, being expected to carry the weight of the show. I think all of those kids are so special. You can see it when you watch the show because [they all have] their own characters that they've created. Jason knew that . . . He and Robert [Horn] cast these special kids. On the surface they just seem like normal kids, but they are very special, and each is [his or her] own person. I'm quite an advocate for children at that age, at the "tween" age. For some reason, I have a kind of connection with kids at that age because of the work that I've done with Disney . . . .It's cool because I feel they can come to me and they can ask me questions. I've been there, so I kind of feel like a role model to those kids, and I mean it. If they really have any questions to ask me, they should totally come by and ask me. That goes for any kid trying to make it in the business. I definitely understand. I don't regret the path that I've taken, but it was a long, hard, committed path.

Question: What's next for you?
Romano: I don't know. [Laughs.] I'm hoping to maybe stay in New York and hopefully go to another show. We'll see because I don't want to leave. I love it here, and I have such a family here and so much support and love, and I feel so blessed. I would love to stay around for a little while, but we'll see. The sunny side of the country might call me again, and I might have to try and go work in TV again. But I have new representation, and I have a team of people that discuss these things with me. Just to have been called upon to be a part of Avenue Q, I just feel honored everyday going to work.

[Avenue Q plays the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. For tickets call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com or AvenueQ.com.]

FOR THE RECORD "Patti LuPone at Les Mouches" (Ghostlight Records)
Christmas will come a month early for the legion of Patti LuPone fans when "Patti LuPone at Les Mouches" arrives Nov. 11 from Ghostlight Records.

It was during LuPone's Tony-winning run in the original Broadway production of Evita when the current Gypsy star also took the cabaret world by storm performing a record-breaking, sold-out 27 weeks at the now-closed Manhattan nightclub Les Mouches.

The new, must-have disc — which bursts forth as if LuPone were singing directly to you — was compiled from live recordings made during that six-month period. Created and written by David Lewis and LuPone, the high-voltage act is an exhilarating mix of show tunes, standards, pop hits and disco tunes and features a young, golden-voiced LuPone thrillingly belting out showstopper after showstopper. Much of LuPone's giddy patter is also included in the 20-track disc, which features music arrangements and direction by Lewis. In fact, it's almost as much fun to hear LuPone's gushing over closing-night audience member Stephen Sondheim as it is to hear her lovely performance of Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around."

After a musical intro led by the fantastic disco-tinged band, LuPone bounces onto the stage to belt out the catchy "Latin from Manhattan," which leads into a portion of the Gershwin classic "I Got Rhythm." Her enthusiasm is simply infectious, and one can't help ride the wave of positive emotion that LuPone delivers in song after song.

Among the disc's numerous highlights are a stentorian version of Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark" from "that gobbler" The Baker's Wife; the touching "Everything I Am," which was penned by music director Lewis; a version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" that LuPone imbues with depths of passion; two riveting Evita selections, a dazzling, from-the-guts "Rainbow High" and a moving "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"; a great take on the '60s hit "Downtown" that slightly alters the melody; and a beautiful reading of the Norma Rae anthem, "It Goes Like it Goes."

Truly, each track is a rediscovered gem.

["Patti LuPone at Les Mouches" is produced by Kurt Deutsch and Joel Moss and co-produced by David Lewis and Ben Rimalower.]

13 (Ghostlight Records)
Of the three-named composers of his generation, Jason Robert Brown's work has always been the most tuneful. There were portions of his Tony-winning score for Parade that were simply ravishing, and his compositions for The Last Five Years and Songs for a New World also revealed a wonderful gift for melody. Brown's latest score for the new Broadway musical 13, which is purposefully less sophisticated than Parade, is also loaded with melodic, ear-catching songs. The new musical, which is currently playing the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, boasts a cast and band composed entirely of multi-talented teenagers. Standouts include the show's two leads, Graham Phillips, who plays Evan, the 12-year-old who is about to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah just as his mother decides to relocate from Manhattan to Indiana; and Allie Trimm as Patrice, the new friend Evan lets down and eventually reconciles with on his journey to becoming a man. There are many highlights to the rock-influenced score, including the show's toe-tapping opening number, "13"; the humorous "The Lamest Place in the World"; the ballad "What It Means to Be a Friend," delivered beautifully by young actress Trimm; "All Hail the Brain," in which Evan details his schemes to help his new friends; the interestingly rhythmic "If That's What It Is"; and the utterly moving "A Little More Homework." [The 13 original cast recording — now available at your favorite digital online music source, such as iTunes, or at the Ghostlight website — is produced by Jeffrey Lesser and composer Brown and executive produced by Ghostlight president Kurt Deutsch and Bill Rosenfield. The disc will be available in stores for the holidays.]

Bailey Hanks, who won her role in Broadway's Legally Blonde via the MTV reality series "Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods," will play Sharpay in the Paper Mill Playhouse's upcoming production of Disney's High School Musical. Paper Mill artistic director Mark S. Hoebee will direct the musical, which will play the New Jersey venue Nov. 5-Dec. 7. Denis Jones will choreograph. Tickets are available by calling (973) 376-4343 or by visiting www.papermill.org. The Paper Mill Playhouse is located on Brookside Drive in Millburn, NJ.

Laura Benanti

Emmy Award-winning actress and comedian Judy Gold will host Broadway Loves Joe's Pub, a Nov. 2 concert featuring performers who have played the intimate stage over the past decade. Presented and directed by Jamie McGonnigal with music direction by Lynne Shankel, the one-night-only event will begin at 9:30 PM. The evening will boast performances by Tony winners Laura Benanti and Cady Huffman as well as Gavin Creel and Steven Pasquale. Additional performers will be announced shortly. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets, priced $50, are available by calling (212) 967-7555 or by visiting visit www.joespub.com. Tony Award winner Carol Channing, who is currently recovering from surgery following a broken femur and hip, will make her first post-surgery public appearance in November at the Celebration of Caring 2008. The Nov. 15 event, which benefits Actors and Others for Animals, will be held at the Universal Hilton and Tower Ballroom in Universal City, CA. The Celebration will also toast the award-winning career of Channing; expected guests include JoAnne Worley, Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, Tippi Hedren, Carole Cook and Bruce Vilanch. The event will begin at 11 AM with a cocktail reception and silent auction followed by a gourmet vegetarian lunch at 12:30 PM and the program and toast at 1:30 PM. Universal Hilton and Tower Ballroom is located at 555 Universal Hollywood Drive in Universal City. Tickets, priced $175-$225, are available by calling (818) 755-5080 or by visiting www.actorsandothers.com.

The Actors Fund of America's Musical Mondays concert series, held in the lobby of the Pantages Theatre, will present Lainie Kazan Oct. 27 and Stephen Schwartz Nov. 24. For the latter, the Wicked composer will be joined by Tony Award winner Debbie Gravitte as well as Jason Alexander, Susan Egan, Jason Graae, Karen Morrow and Hila Plitmann. The evenings begin with a pre-show cocktail reception at 7:30 PM, followed by the performance and a post-show dessert reception with the artists. The Pantages Theater is located at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA. Tickets, priced $125 ($200 for both concerts), are available by calling (323) 933-9244, ext. 54.

And, finally, a shout out to the terrifically talented cast of [title of show]Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff and Jeff Bowen — as they head into their final weekend at the Lyceum Theatre. Thanks for kicking off the season with a show filled with such warmth, joy, humor, hummable tunes and heart-touching moments. I had the great pleasure of revisiting the little-musical-that-did Thursday night, and I was again thrilled by the talent and moved by its message. [title of show] may not have run a decade on Broadway, but who knows how many "vampires" it killed: How many long-forgotten novels have been taken out of desk drawers or how many new musicals are now in the works? If you haven't had the pleasure of enjoying this intimate, often hilarious musical, get thee to the Lyceum this weekend.

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

Heidi Blickenstaff, Jeff Bowen, Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell in <i>[titile of show]</i>.
Heidi Blickenstaff, Jeff Bowen, Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell in [titile of show]. Photo by Carol Rosegg
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