DIVA TALK: Chatting with Avenue Q's Veronica J. Kuehn

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Avenue Q's Veronica J. Kuehn
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Veronica J. Kuehn
Veronica J. Kuehn

The Tony-winning Jeff Marx-Robert Lopez-Jeff Whitty musical Avenue Q welcomed new leading lady Veronica J. Kuehn to its cast earlier this week at New World Stages. Kuehn, last seen on Broadway in Mamma Mia!,  assumed the roles of Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, the parts created by Tony nominee Stephanie D'Abruzzo, joining a cast that includes Adam Kantor, Nicholas Kohn, Ruthie Ann Miles, Rob Morrison, Hazel Anne Raymundo and Haneefah Wood. A day before her first performance, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kuehn, who was also seen in the Broadway company and the subsequent national tour of Xanadu. The New Jersey native spoke about her quick road to Broadway, her time spent in the hit ABBA musical as well as her newest Broadway roles; that brief interview follows.

Question: Since we haven't spoken before, let's go back to the beginning. Tell me where you were born and raised.
Veronica J. Kuehn: In Spotswood, NJ.

Question: When did you start performing?
Kuehn: I would say that I was probably seven.

Question: When you were growing up, were there any artists — singers or actors — that you particularly admired?
Kuehn: Yeah, always Bernadette Peters and then as I got older, Sutton Foster.

Question: When did performing change for you from being a hobby to knowing it was going to be your career?
Kuehn: I was between the ages of 12 and 14, I would say. One of my cousins went to college for theatre, and I didn't really know you could do that. [Laughs.] She went to Carnegie Mellon, and I decided when I was 14, "Alright, that's what I'm going to do. I'm gonna go to college. I'm gonna try out at all the best, biggest schools, and that's what I want to do." I ended up going to Boston Conservatory.

Kuehn with Kate Monster
photo by Dale Heller

Question: After school, did you go to New York or did you go back home to NJ?
Kuehn: No, I went to Boston Conservatory and then had crazy good luck. I literally started my first rehearsal for Mamma Mia! the day after our showcase. I had met with agents at Boston Conservatory that came for a master class and asked if they could send me in — before I had even graduated — to Mamma Mia! I did one audition for them and got a call the next day and was asked, "Hey, do you want to be on Broadway?" [Laughs.] And, I was like, "Well, sure!" [Laughs.]

Question: What was your reaction to that?
Kuehn: I asked him if he was joking. My agent who called me, who I'm still with now, I asked, "Is this a joke?" He was like, "No, I wouldn't do that to you." [Laughs.]

Question: Do you remember your first night on Broadway? I'm always curious how the actuality of it lives up to what was in your mind.
Kuehn: Yeah, I do. I remember feeling completely like it's an out-of-body experience. They never teach you about "put-ins," and they don't teach you about the rehearsal process so much. I had always rehearsed with my cast and we had dress rehearsals together, and then when you get to New York, you're rehearsing with the stage manager and the dance captain in a room by yourself, and then you're put in is you with the whole cast—hope you get it right! [Laughs.] And then, that night I went on. It felt like an out-of-body experience, but also, just like a bigger show. It was magical, but it felt like any other show, but on a way larger scale.

Question: How long were you in Mamma Mia!?
Kuehn: Two-and-a-half years.

Question: Oh, okay — so a long time. Were you in the ensemble or…?
Kuehn: I was in the ensemble. I played Ali, and I also covered Sophie.

Question: Did you ever get to go on as Sophie?
Kuehn: I did.

Question: What was that like the first time?
Kuehn: Like being shot out of a cannon. [Laughs.] I was singing with Carolee Carmello — there's a duet, "Slipping Through My Fingers," I think it's called, in the second act — and I'm in my wedding dress and she is just helping me do my hair, and then we sing like eight bars together, and then I have to say, "I'm so proud of you Mom," and run up the stairs, and I totally tripped in the dress. I didn't go all the way down [laughs], but I almost did. So that was pretty horrifying. But, the whole thing was like, "I can't believe that I'm doing this right now!" [Laughs.]

Question: Did it get better the more times you performed the role?
Kuehn: Sure, yeah, it did — of course. I ended up being able to go on for, I think, a week straight once, and so, finally after that I was like, "Oh, alright!" [Laughs.]

Kuehn in her Xanadu costume

Question: And then you did Xanadu after Mamma Mia!?
Kuehn: I did, yes. I was a member of the Broadway company very briefly. They announced their closing, I think, after I maybe performed five shows. It was my first time as a swing, but I didn't really get to learn all of the tracks by the time the show had closed. That was a crazy put-in experience. I think I only rehearsed for five or seven days and then I went right in. I don't even know if I got a full put-in for that.

Question: How did Avenue Q come about?
Kuehn: I had auditioned for it probably for the first time in either 2007 or 2006. I think it was when Sarah Stiles ended up going in the Broadway company. I had been in puppet camp way back then. [Laughs.] I had many final callbacks over the years and hadn't heard anything in a long time, and then back in March I went in to see Jason Moore, who was in town briefly, and they said, "There are no roles open, but we just want to see you again." I went in and heard nothing because there were no roles open, so I guess I wasn't supposed to hear anything, and then like four weeks ago they called and said, "Hey, are you free?" [Laughs.] So I was totally excited — it was sort of one of the roles I had wanted to play. Had been in for it for so many years off and on. It just felt like the timing was right now, and it's my turn — so it's awesome.

Question: When you went in with Jason Moore that last time, what did they have you do?
Kuehn: They had me do all of the Kate audition material and also popped the puppet on my hand because I had already been through puppet camp like three years ago. They were like, "We just want to see what you've retained." [Laughs.] So I said, "Sure," and just sort of did what I remembered from three years ago.

Question: What was that puppet camp like?
Kuehn: It was sort of intense. I actually almost hurt my wrist. [Laughs.] Now, having gone through the rehearsal process for the show, for real, I've had four weeks to sort of let everything sink in. [The camp] — I think there were three different days of puppet camp, maybe, two or three hours at a time of work — was very condensed, and you are trying to take in everything that you can, and you are trying to get this puppet to do what you want it to do in your final callback, so it was challenging. But the people that they have teaching are very knowledgeable — it’s kind of amazing. The people that I have been working with have been puppeteering for years and years, and it's insane how alive they can make the puppet look.

Kuehn and Kate Monster
photo by Dale Heller

Question: How has the rehearsal process been for Avenue Q?
Kuehn: It's been good. I open tomorrow — so I feel appropriately nervous. I'm not panicked. [Laughs.] I had my put-in yesterday. Everybody has been very kind. They say that I'm doing well and that I'm right on track, and I have to believe them when they say that because the puppet skill is something, I think, that comes with time. You just have to trust that what you are doing is okay, and they'll keep giving me notes as I go along, and things will get more comfortable as I get used to it. But, it's definitely strange. It reminded me a little bit of Xanadu rehearsing with roller-skates and feeling like, "I can't believe I am about to do this on stage." So, it's another sort of strange skill that I can say I have now. I can roller-skate, and I can do puppets! [Laughs.] Question: How do you find playing the two different characters, playing Kate and Lucy?
Kuehn: I like it. I'm excited once I start the run to really sort of dig into that. I feel like I'm just sort of touching on the first layer of what I can do to make them really separate and different. It's nice though to do all of the comedy, but then Kate is so sweet and so honest and vulnerable, and then with Lucy being such a bitch [laughs], to be able to do both is really great, and to use my different character voices, and singing two different ways is always really great. I'm really getting to use my whole bag of tricks. I haven't gotten to do that in a while, so it's very cool.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment yet in the show for either of them?
Kuehn: I don't know that I can say yet. I think it's too soon. I love when Kate speaks up for herself at the end of Act 1 and does what she feels she needs to do for her, and Lucy — her whole café scene with "Special" is really fun. I'm excited to do it when I'm less nervous because I'm still sort of thinking about all of the steps and her hair-ography, but yeah, they both have some really great moments to sort of command the stage.

Also, the last song in the show is "For Now." Over the last few years I've had some ups and downs, I've had great jobs, okay jobs and a fair amount of time with no jobs. When we sing "For Now," I really do feel like that speaks volumes about how we deal with change in our lives, whatever our profession, but especially as actors. It's about acknowledging your personal roller coaster and knowing that "everything in life is only for now," and to be okay with your present circumstances, whatever they may be, and embracing the present moment, because nothing lasts forever.... I love it, and it makes me teary every time.

Question: And, you also get to do "There's a Fine, Fine Line," which is one of my favorites.
Kuehn: Yeah, it's so funny. It's such a weird experience for me because I worked on the material for so long for the auditions, and that was something I worked on in class. Now that I get to do it, it's really cool, and I have breakups that would be appropriate to think about. I love it.

Question: When you look back at all of the different shows you've done, do you have a favorite experience so far?
Kuehn: This is climbing the top of the list, Andrew. [Laughs.] I've always understudied the principal girl role, and this is the first time I really get to be her. I'm really excited to have a chance every night to explore that and see how it will change over a period of time, which is really cool. So, I feel like I'm stepping up—I'm growing.

[New World Stages is located at 340 W. 50th Street in Manhattan. Visit the Avenue Q website at www.avenueq.com. ]

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

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