Third in a series
What I Did This Summer, by Rob McClure. Had starring role in Tony-winning musical. Made late-night network TV debut. Got married.
That sure sounds like a life chock-full of purpose, no? Yet McClure, the last performer to fill the role of Princeton in Avenue Q on Broadway (it closes September 13), says he thoroughly identifies with his purpose-seeking character. He admits to a solidarity, too, with his other Avenue Q character, even though McClure just married his girlfriend while Rod's very reluctantly coming out of the closet.
Of course, both Rod and Princeton are puppets—which McClure had no professional experience with before he joined Avenue Q. When I saw the show in August for the first time since it opened in summer 2003, I was amazed at McClure's dexterity with the puppets and his charming, affable performance—and how much it reminded me of John Tartaglia's performance as the original Princeton/Rod, which had impressed me so much with its charm and affability. Tartaglia was a professional puppeteer before Avenue Q and has worked on children's TV shows such as Sesame Street and Johnny and the Sprites.
Like Tartaglia, McClure was virtually unknown and untested on New York City stages pre-Q. He was an understudy in the Broadway company of I'm Not Rappaport in 2002 but never got a chance to play his part during the revival's two-month run. And he'd briefly been in Q on Broadway a few years ago, in a smaller role. Most of McClure's credits have been at regional theaters in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
The 27-year-old newlywed talked to BWW last week about his road to Avenue Q and all the different personalities he's inhabited there and in other productions, as well as about personal subjects, like his August 23 wedding to actress Maggie Lakis.
You just took over Princeton/Rod on Broadway in early July, but you go back a few years with Avenue Q, right?
I first got hired almost three years ago as Nicky and Trekkie Monster on Broadway. I did it for about a hundred performances—which is about three months—and then they asked me to do Princeton and Rod on the tour. At first, I thought I was going out as Nicky and Trekkie on the tour; maybe three weeks before we started rehearsal, they gave me a call and said: "Listen, we want you to come in and sing some Princeton and Rod stuff." I went in, and they asked me to switch over. So I did Princeton and Rod on the road for two years, and then just joined the Broadway company to close it out in New York.
Which (human) characters in other shows you've done would you say are most similar to each of the Avenue Q roles you've played?
In college I did a bunch of scenes from the Brighton Beach Memoirs series—those three plays—and I think Eugene has a lot of Princeton in him: the constant questions, the constant uncertainty and striving to know more. I don't think there's anyone quite like Trekkie Monster that I've played before. Nicky's fun because he has such a big heart and he means well, he's not necessarily the most productive friend to have around; I don't know that I've gotten to play someone like him.
Rod...well, right before I came back to Broadway, I played Carmen Ghia in The Producers down at the Walnut Street, and Carmen Ghia makes Rod look like Mr. T! I love that about Rod. I love that the writers were brave enough and smart enough to not just make him flaming comic relief and to trust that if the audience would go with him during "If You Were Gay" and laugh at his insecurities, they would go with him if he had the breakdown in Act 2 with Christmas Eve, where he really doesn't know what to do. He does have a real struggle, he does have a real plot.
I can't tell you: being on the national tour and going to places in the buckle of the Bible Belt and hearing 50-year-old straight guys from the South let out an "Awww" at the end of "Fantasies Come True." For one moment they are relating to his struggle, to find someone who he loves and loves him back. I really think that that is a gigantic brave statement that this show has made, and I think being puppets allows people to let their guard down. They don't expect those kinds of things to come out of this, what they thought was just going to be a raunchy puppet show, and all of a sudden they're getting these sucker-punches of heart. I think that's why the show has run as long as it has, and why it won the Tony in the first place.