The Rep’s production of Avenue Q is now in its last week at TPAC, but if you’ve got the time it’s absolutely worth the time and money. The show has been around for a while, but this production has been updated to feature #MAGA racism and Trumpian extremists in its staging.
Don’t be fooled by the puppets: yes the show is funny, but it’s also poignant and has a depth of insight into the condition of modern human beings in the world. And in the end, the kinder, gentler world-weary cynicism it presents just resonates.
In preparation for seeing the show, I sat down with Bradley Gale, who plays Rod (the lead) & Princeton in the show. Gale, who toured with The Book of Mormon, is a musical theatre pro, but now he’s also a local Nashville actor, so join me in getting to know him and the show, before it closes.
Grady: So tell me a little bit about your background.
Gale: Well, I actually grew up on a farm in Michigan and was going to be a youth pastor and my senior year of high school I had an English teacher who has become a very close friend now … who used to sneak me into her room and play musicals, and she actually played me Avenue Q. I was 18, don’t worry!
And that changed the course of my career right there in my senior year! I decided to pursue musical theatre at the last minute, as opposed to being a music pastor. So she kind of saved my life…
Then I moved to Chicago and went to college for 10 weeks for musical theater. And then I dropped out and started musical theatre on my own. I spent a little over three years on the road with The Book of Mormon – The Musical. I was in the original Chicago production of that show. While we were in Chicago for the first time around, I had the supreme pleasure of playing Elder Price to Ben Platt’s Elder Cunningham multiple times.
The show came through Nashville in 2014 on tour. The first day we got into town, we went to 3rd & Lindsley and saw Vince Gill play for 20 bucks. And I was like, “Oh, I think I want to move here!” So I called my husband, and I said, “I found where we’re moving…”
In 2015, we signed on our very first home up in Springfield, Tennessee. We actually bought one of the … there’s a show on DIY called Nashville Flipped, and we bought Episode 1, Season 1’s house!
Grady: So what brought you to Nashville, other than the prospect of seeing Vince Gill for $20?
Gale: That’s pretty much it! No, one of my best friends, who’s sort of a local Nashville actress as well, Diana DeGarmo, and Ace Young, her husband, moved here shortly before my husband and I did, so they were kind of like, hey, come to Nashville!
So they were partly the impetus, but, really, it was just that we had been on tour for a really long time, my husband had injured himself—he tore his Achilles, he’s an acrobat. So he was traveling with me, and we had our Boston Terrier Lucy with us. So just was getting to be a lot of traveling with all that. And we knew we wanted to make an investment in the housing market here back in 2014.
We wanted to get off tour. We wanted to sort of breathe for a minute, you know… When you’re on tour, you’re downtown wherever you go. So we kind of wanted to be outside of the city for a while. And we are. We tell people we live in Nashville, but we do not … very far out!
Grady: So what does a formerly-traveling musical theatre personality do for a living in Nashville?
Gale: Well, this year has been a really good year for me. I’ve actually been able to get my insurance through the actor’s union, based on all the work I’ve done… Studio Tenn, Chaffin’s Barn, I’m going to be in the Bell Witch festival coming up … all those are union contracts, so it’s actually been really good.
When I’m not doing theatre, I spend a bit of time giving singing tours at the Fontanel Mansion, Barbara Mandrell’s former 33,000 square foot dream home.
I’m also a writer, and I have an album out called Whiskey Confessions. It’s an acoustic album, me and my ukulele, all my original music, and I sort of spend my free time promoting that.
Grady: What’s your involvement with the theater community here in Nashville been like since you’ve been here?
Gale: Well, we’ve sort of created two separate communities for ourselves. We have all of our neighbors in this great family up in Springfield, Tennessee. But then one of the first theatre companies I got introduced to was Studio Tenn Theatre Company, down in Franklin. The community is really small, so when you work with somebody, you’re going to work with them again.
I did Evita here at TPAC back in 2016. And that was sort of my first local actor gig here. And since then, every year, I seem to get more and more work. But Avenue Q is my first Nashville Rep show.
The community is small, but it’s also very … it’s a lot different than the community in New York in that it’s a very supportive. There’s not nearly as much competition—I’m sure if there was, if there were less jobs for actors, there would be more competition, but there’s plenty of work here for actors, and consequently, it’s a really friendly, really supportive theatre community. They’ve become kind of a second family…
Grady: So given your history with this show, did know instantly that you were gonna want to audition?
Gale: For sure. I knew I wanted to get back involved with Nashville Rep. I made it to the end of callback season last year with Nashville Rep but didn’t book anything. So, this year, the season popped up, and it’s kind of one of those things where, as an actor, you go put yourself in at the generals for the whole entire season and hope something clicks… But definitely, in my mind, I was like, “I really want to be Princeton.”
Grady: And you got the part that you wanted!
Gale: Yes, Yes, I did. I did, indeed.
Grady: So if you are going to tell somebody who hadn’t—and I’m actually shocked by the number of people that I’ve talked to the last few weeks who have no idea what the show is—what would you tell them?
Gale: I would say that Avenue Q is basically Sesame Street for adults. It’s lessons learned in the form we learned them as children, but with adult content. I feel like we get away with a lot because we’re puppets, and the things that puppets can say! The things that puppets get away with saying and doing on stage is way more than what a human being would be able to get away with. So I guess I would say, you know, come see the show, if you’re ready to laugh a shit ton! And if you enjoy puppets…
Grady: And relive your youth, as if Jim Henson had gotten drunk with this frat brothers.
Gale: Exactly. There, that’s what I should have said. Can you make those my words?
Grady: I have no ownership over my words!
Gale: Awesome. Awesome.
Grady: So what’s your favorite song in the show?
Gale: My favorite song to perform is “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” as Rod. My favorite song to sing is “Purpose” as Princeton.
Grady: Is there anything else that you would like to share or talk about?
Gale: Yes, actually, I am working with Best Buddies Tennessee this fall. I’m a part of their Champion of the Year. It’s a competition between, you know, 15 or 20, local business professionals, entrepreneurs, that kind of a thing. I’m competing against the drummer from Slipknot, and a pig named Hamlet who has over 300,000 Instagram followers.
Grady: Oh, yeah, that’s gonna hurt ya…
Gale: I’m a little worried about it, but… I’m competing. I’m raising money for my buddy Nicholas, and we’re just raising awareness about Best Buddies and what they do for people living with IDD. The competition goes through November. And, essentially, we’re just trying to raise money for Best Buddies Tennessee!