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Rob McClure, actor/puppeteer with Avenue Q 

The Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q, playing March 25-30 at the Fox Theatre, has charmed audiences nationwide with its adults-only spin on "Sesame Street." Rob McClure, one of the stars of the tour, plays such roles as Rod, the closeted half of Avenue Q's gay equivalents to Bert and Ernie. The 25-year-old actor, who appeared in the Broadway revival of I'm Not Rappaport, reveals some of the ways Avenue Q pulls the audience's strings.

Were you already a puppeteer when you joined the Broadway cast as a four-month replacement? I hadn't trained, but growing up I was a huge Muppet fan. If Avenue Q can't find actual trained puppeteers, they're looking for people who can do it instinctively, because they need people who can learn it quickly. I had eight call-backs and three days of puppet training before I was even seen by the creative team. I remember going to my first rehearsal and thinking step one would be, 'Make sure your hand moves in time with what you're saying.' Instead, it was 'Make sure your puppet breathes before he speaks.' If that's step one, we'll be here awhile!

The show is famous for songs like "The Internet Is for Porn," but does its appeal go beyond parody? We couldn't be able to get away with half of what we do if it weren't for the puppets. There's an innocence with puppets, so we take what they say at face value. The song "Everybody's a Little Bit Racist" isn't shocking or offensive: You say, "Oh my God, they're so right." The puppets do and say a lot of shocking things, but the larger appeal of the show isn't watching puppets have a one-night stand in front of you, but watching them the next day, unsure of what to do, and in general struggle with the responsibilities of twentysomething life.

How would you compare doing the puppetry of Avenue Q to a show like The Lion King, with designs that are so big and elaborate? I think the operation of the Lion King puppets, like the full-body hyena costumes, would be more taxing and physically complex to operate. But the Avenue Q puppets are hard to operate and express such a wide range of emotions. Our puppets go through some very real things. In The Lion King, when the cheetah comes out in the middle of the audience, it's amazing and everyone gasps. But the cheetah doesn't have to get kicked out of his apartment and become homeless.

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