'Avenue Q'

A reimagined "Sesame Street"-inspired show with Oz-flavored creative flourishes to excellent effect.

Six years since “Avenue Q” began wowing auds on Broadway, this new, non-replica Australian adaptation has cherry-picked from the original but otherwise reimagined the “Sesame Street”-inspired show with Oz-flavored creative flourishes to excellent effect.

There are identical puppets but a bigger-built set from designer Richard Roberts, who opted for a five-building constructed facade, with three bleak, conjoined double-story apartments, each featuring an interior revolve.

Along the Avenue, helmer Jonathan Biggins brings a deft and expert hand to his commercial theater directing debut. The tireless multihyphenate — who has hosted the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s arts show, directed and co-starred in the Sydney Theater Company’s sellout annual revues and appeared in all manner of productions — has improved considerably on his last musical helming effort, 2003’s “The Republic of Myopia.”

This “Avenue Q” is infused with localized humor, updated cultural refs (such as to the global financial crisis) and stellar perfs from leads Michala Banas, Mitchell Butel and Luke Joslin, playing two characters each. The ensemble’s generous camaraderie and easy interaction is a credit to the actors and Biggins’ impeccable casting, with the exception of Cherine Peck as a rather lanky Gary Coleman. It’s possible that the entire Coleman shtick, now dated and worn, is to blame, and might have benefited from a complete overhaul given the other revisions made to this production.

Butel and Banas are well known in Oz, he for stage work and she mostly for television (such as sudser “McLeod’s Daughters”), but this show gives them room to stretch. The largely unknown Joslin rides the Nicky and Trekkie Monster characters with guttural glee.

This well-established production arrives in Sydney after two months in Melbourne, where it was well received critically though not as well attended as the word of mouth should have ensured. It opens in the tougher Sydney market soon after a sellout tour of “Chicago” and a month before behemoth “Wicked” transfers from Melbourne. Such excellent timing should allow this little show that could to find an aud, though with the brand less well known Down Under, “Avenue Q” could struggle without a bigger marketing push.Produced by husband-and-wife team Torben and Richelle Brookman, veterans of the Asian touring circuit but new to commercial tuners, “Avenue Q” appears promotionally undercapitalized — a shame, given how very well it comes together.

Avenue Q

Theater Royal, Sydney; 1,100 seats; $A85 $70 top

Production

An Arts Asia Pacific and Power Arts presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty. Directed by Jonathan Biggins.

Creative

Choreography, Nathan M. Wright; set and costumes, Richard Roberts; lighting, Richard Pacholski; puppets, Rick Lyon and Sue Giles; animation, Mal Padgett designs; sound, Peter Grubb; technical direction, Richard Stuart. Opened Aug. 12, 2009. Reviewed Aug. 18. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Nicky/Trekkie Monster - Luke Joslin Princeton/Rod - Mitchell Butel Kate Monster/Lucy T. Slut - Michala Banas Mrs. Thistlewat/ Bad Idea Bear - Natalie Alexopoulos Bad Idea Bear/Ensemble - Frank Hansen Dance Captain/ Ensemble - Leah Howard Brian - David James Ensemble - Josie Lane Ensemble/Bad Idea Bear - Gus Murray Christmas Eve - Christina O'Neill Gary Coleman - Cherine Peck

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more