Enthralled by a Puppet and a Tony

Tony Award-winning composer and writer Jeff Marx, who was once told he had no talent, introduces his Avenue Q puppet Nicky to students in the musical theater program. 
By Deserae E. del Campo

Tony Award-winning composer and writer Jeff Marx, who was once told he had no talent, introduces his Avenue Q puppet Nicky to students in the musical theater program. 

Enthralled by a Puppet and a Tony

By Deserae E. del Campo
Musical theatre students spent quality time learning (and laughing) with Avenue Q co-creator Jeff Marx.

Tony-Award winning Broadway composer and writer Jeff Marx came to the University of Miami prepared. A large black duffel bag held two of his most prized possessions: “Nicky,” a puppet from his celebrated Broadway musical, Avenue Q, and his 2004 Tony Award. Marx knew that the students in the UM Musical Theatre program would be thrilled to see—and hold—both. 

“I admire Jeff so much,” said senior Bobby Eddy, who is majoring in musical theatre and was ecstatic when he was able to hold and operate Nicky. “Actually, it was Avenue Q that inspired me to pursue a career in musical theatre. This is really a life-changing moment for me. I will never forget it.” 

In 2004, Marx and Robert Lopez won a Tony Award for creating and writing all the songs for the hit Broadway musical comedy that follows a group of twenty-somethings seeking their purpose in big-city life. Nominated for six Tony Awards, it won three, for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Original Book. 

 

In an intimate classroom in the Hecht Residential Building, Marx spent hours telling the musical theatre students about his experience in the industry, why he never gave up even when a professor told him he had no talent, and why getting fired always leads to bigger and better opportunities. 

“I was fired from a lot of jobs, but life goes on and everything leads to something else,” Marx said. “The best part is that you start collecting relationships with the people you meet, people that are in the industry, and you learn so much along the way.” 

Marx, who grew up in Hollywood, Florida, and graduated from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, recalled his sophomore evaluation, when “one of the teachers sat with me and said, ‘I’m going to be frank with you: you have no talent and you’re never going to make it so I suggest you find something else to do.’ That was pretty devastating.”

After graduation, Marx decided to go to law school in New York City and become an entertainment lawyer. “I thought this would be great because I’ll be on the other side of entertainment representing writers, producers or directors,” he said. 

It was during his time in law school that Marx began writing and composing music, and eventually collaborating with Lopez to create Avenue Q. The acclaimed musical comedy debuted Off-Broadway in March 2003 before moving to Broadway in July 2003, where it had more than 3,000 performances, and spawned Las Vegas and West End productions, two national tours, and a variety of international productions.
 
“There is hope, even if you’re not a great dancer or singer,” said Marx. “There are many ways to work on Broadway shows or musicals. My advice is to take an inventory what you’re good at and what you can do with your talents because you will be successful. You can be a producer, a writer, a teacher, a stage manager, a casting director, and even a theatre critic.” 

Though Marx played the piano and regaled the students with his stories, the highlight of the day came when he pulled his Tony Award from the large black duffel bag. Each and every student held the award—some taking selfies while others asking their classmates to take their picture. 

“I loved it,” said sophomore Dana Munro. “I feel relaxed and excited about my future and the different possibilities I can find in the industry, and getting to hold a real Tony Award was amazing!”