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‘Avenue Q’ Took the Tony and Ran.

A star of the hit musical talks about stealing the award, hightailing it to Vegas, and changing the Broadway business model.

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It used to be, if you won the Tony for Best Musical, you hit the road to the delight of regional-theater producers everywhere. But when Avenue Q won in 2004, after an astonishingly well-run get-out-the-vote campaign—the first time anyone tried Oscar tactics on Broadway—the show’s producers decided to skip the flyover. Instead, they signed an exclusive deal with promoter Steve Wynn to go to Las Vegas, where they will take up residency in their very own brand-new theater in September 2005. Angry road presenters (who make up 15 percent of Tony voters) said the award had been squandered on the prodigal Q and that a show like Wicked could have used the award to better (regional promotional) effect. But plenty of producers will be closely watching the experiment, which may well create a whole new paradigm for post-Broadway life. Rod, the closeted Republican puppet star of Q and its Tony campaign, answered our questions with a little help from the show’s book writer, Jeff Whitty.

“Vote Your Heart” was some Tony campaign. We got a don’t suck, vote q button in the mail—what were the others?
Well, the VOTE AVENUE Q OR YOU’LL GET CANCER button was nixed at the last minute. I would have to check eBay to remember the rest of them.

Before the Tonys, the cast released a new song called “Rod’s Dilemma,” in which Tony voters were urged to “vote your heart.” How did you know Tony voters secretly felt more for Avenue Q than for, say, Wicked?
Since Avenue Q was a bit of an upstart, we just wanted to remind folks that we were in the running. We weren’t going specifically after any of the other shows. This may surprise you, but I was a bit of a Judy fan as a young man, and I grew up with the firm belief that I could have a house dropped on me at any moment. So I made sure that “Rod’s Dilemma” wasn’t mean-spirited. And I kept checking the sky.

A lot of road producers were mad when you took off for Vegas. Do you have anything to say to those who feel duped into voting for Q?
Are you saying that some folks might have voted their pocketbooks if they knew we weren’t touring? I think I speak for the entire theatre community in saying I am shocked at your assumption! The Tonys are a church, my friend!

What does your Vegas move mean for the future of touring companies?
While it may not be good for Peoria, it’s great for actors like me who can stop living out of a Tumi bag and lay down roots in the Vegas sun. Overall, I can’t imagine our settling down in Vegas is going to affect the touring industry in a major way. But I send a message to any and all chorus boys: When you pass through town, you have a place to stay at Rod’s.

What lessons should Broadway-musical producers learn from the success of your Tony campaign?
I hate the word “campaign.” How about “celebration”? Or, better yet, “parade”! We were in a unique position—what with everyone considering us a “subversive” show—such that we could have fun with the entire process. Personally, I think Avenue Q is closer to Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but that’s just me.

But then why Vegas?
Hello? Liberace Museum? Celine? Steve Wynn? Showgirls?! It’s long been my dream to follow in the footsteps of Siegfried and Roy, but, you know, I’d gay my act up a bit.

What will your new theater there be like?
It’s going to be fabulous. Not too big, not too little. Just a cozy little $40 million house thanks to our friend Mr. Wynn. It’ll feel just like home!


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