Last in a four-part series
“Everything in life is only for now.” Those words will ring extra bittersweet when the cast of Avenue Q sings them on September 13, the day of the show’s final performance on Broadway. By mid-August, Ann Harada had already found that “getting through ‘For Now’ is very difficult for me at this point, because every line is so true.”
Harada has one of the longest histories with Avenue Q. Back when songwriters Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx were just sketching out the score “and they needed an Asian actress to come in and sing Christmas Eve, I was that girl,” says Harada, who met Lopez and Marx through her college pal Amanda Green, who’d been in the BMI workshop with them. Harada played Christmas Eve when the show was developed at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, and when it got an off-Broadway production at the Vineyard Theatre in early 2003. And she was there when it bowed on Broadway in the summer of ’03—and when it pulled off one of the all-time biggest upsets, topping Wicked for Best Musical at the 2004 Tonys.
As Christmas Eve, the highly educated, heavily accented Japanese-born social worker married to slacker wannabe comedian Brian, Harada earned herself a signature song, “The More You Ruv Someone,” and became a favorite of musical theater buffs. Her delivery in “It Sucks to Be Me” is now near-iconic. She has gone on to play Madame Thénardier in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables and originate the role of Kathy in both the Broadway and L.A. productions of 9 to 5: The Musical.
There have also been several return engagements as Christmas Eve. Harada departed Avenue Q for a few months in late 2004 for the birth of her son, Elvis, who will be 5 in November. About a year after returning from maternity leave, she again left the show in early 2006...only to reunite with Christmas Eve for the West End opening that June. She performed in the London production—which is still running—until November 2006. Then, this summer, just a couple of months after 9 to 5 opened on Broadway, Harada left that show to go back into Avenue Q. (Soon after, 9 to 5 announced its closing, which occurred on September 6.)
With a few weeks left on the Avenue, Harada chatted with BroadwayWorld about her Q alter ego, the challenges and rewards of costarring with puppets and what it was like to help create a mega-hit.
How have you changed during the run of Avenue Q?
I feel like during Avenue Q I grew up. I had a child, and because of Avenue Q I got to go abroad and live in London for six months. Since Avenue Q, I’ve been in two other Broadway shows. It’s just been like a big, big chunk of my life—a big time of my life. To me, it’s the perfect show to have grown up with because every line means so much to me now, has so much significance, it’s like a bible for how to live your life. It’s almost like “The World According to Peanuts”; my world is “The World According to Avenue Q.”
Has Christmas Eve also changed?
At each point, I was happy to have the break because it enabled me to rethink her a little bit. I would say the Christmas Eve of right now is different from the Christmas Eve of the first pass—which is good. It’s sort of my way of trying to keep her fresh. It’s always a weird experience to start over with new people. You’re doing the same show, but it’s all coming out differently. When I came back this time, I’m not just doing this show with the people [in the current cast]; I’m, like, doing it with the ghosts of everybody else I’ve ever done it with. God knows, there are people who have been in shows a heck of a lot longer than I have—the people over at Phantom, or those kids from Cats. I’m sure they’ve seen a million people come and go, and it must be very odd.
I feel like she’s a little gentler now than she was then. Not in any way that affects the laughs or the intent of the scene work, but just because I’m gentler now [laughs]. I feel like I personally have more of a depth of understanding for the human condition than I did then [laughs]. A lot of it is from having a child, and a lot of it is, I’ve been through different kinds of experiences now and I feel like I’m more humbled, I have more compassion or understanding, or something… I would say I’m more mature now, and so she is too.