Avenue Q – Derby Theatre
Avenue Q was premiered in 2003. Sixteen years on, this Tony Award Best Musical award- winning show has lost none of its freshness, or mischief. Its writing credentials are formidable. The music and lyrics are created by Jeff Marx,and Robert Lopez, co-creator of “The Book Of Mormon” and Disney’s “Frozen”. Its heart is as big as its New York setting. The book is by Jeff Whitty. This UK Tour is produced by Selladoor Worldwide with Richard Darbourne Limited who are behind Footloose, Flashdance and American Idiot. Production values are high. Puppets are designed by Paul Jomain of Q Puppets with Puppet Coaching by Nigel Plaskitt.
The central proposition is that this is Sesame Street grown up for grown- ups. A child like puppeteer presentation belies a teenager’s base humour, and a razor -sharp adult take on the world around us all. The big numbers still resonate. “Everyone’s a little racist sometimes” is painfully on target, “The Internet is for Porn” seems to elicit widespread approval.
The production bubbles with energy and vim. Lead puppeteers Lawrence Smith, Cecily Redman, Tom Steedon and Megan Armstrong are unobtrusive in stage- hand black, the puppets are the stars. What amounts to a group sex session had the house howling with laughter. Set designer Richard Evans has combined a simple, vivid, Avenue Q overshadowed by the New York skyline, complete with Empire State Building from which coins may drop at any time. The lighting, by Charlie Morgan, is bright and brash.
Simplicity is the order of the day in a production which is largely sung through, assisted by some big screen messages above the stage. Director and Choreographer Cressida Carré keeps things moving briskly from song to song, ensuring that the puppeteers, while an intrinsic part of the show, play a strictly supporting role. The heart of the show is its verité, not smut, as it holds a mirror up to the audience’s prejudices and experiences. She eschews contemporary political references, bar the odd Trump call, staying faithful to the original script.
It is an ensemble performance, but the people, literally, behind the puppets do so with dexterity and skill. Lawrence Smith excels as Princeton and Rod, Cecily Redman becomes Lucy The Slut. It is the “double hander” (pun intended) of Tom Steedon and Megan Armstrong as Trekkie Monster which thrills the audience. The “real people”, Nicholas McLean as streetwise, Gary Coleman, Saori Oda as the Therapist who need therapy, Christmas Eve, and Oliver Stanley as her husband, have almost as much fun as the puppets.
A live band makes a big difference, and in the pit Dean McDermott and his five other musicians imbue the evening with vibrancy and pizzazz.
Some shows are of their time, and once that time has passed, appear dated and irrelevant. Avenue Q has grown up and flourished, but still enjoys dirty jokes and innuendo. A well -attended first night had brought out a younger theatre crowd, which is always welcome. Runs until Saturday 23rd March.