Sunday, 23 May 1999

The Boy From Oz, 23 May, 1999

The Boy From Oz 
at Princess Theatre from May 21, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Peter Allen may have been the epitome of glitzy gay cabaret but his life was no cheery cocktail. Nick Enright's dramatic script for The Boy from Oz provides an interesting counterpoint to Allen's peppy songs.

Enright is master of the dysfuntional family. He keeps action moving, the years flying and integrates the ebb and flow of Allens' career and personal life.

Nee' Peter Woolnough, Allen was born into a tragic country Australian family, married into an even more tragic American show-biz family and died in tragic show-biz circumstances. The famous are not necessarily charmed.

Allen was not a great dancer-singer but he was a showman - and show-off and he wrote catchy tunes including Tenterfield Saddler and the Theme From Arthur.

The versatile Todd McKenney, bouncing at a grand piano or bounding coltishly across the stage, is a much better dancer-singer. He captures the essence of this excitable, high-attention-seeking-unit.

Allen as a boy, played sweetly by Jordan White, dreamed of "When I Get My Name in Lights". He hungered for fame, New York and glamour. He was the ultimate groupie so, to fulfil that dream, he met Judy Garland and married Liza.

As Allen's mother Marion, Jill Perryman is magnetic and moving singing "Don't Cry Out Loud" after her husband's suicide. As Garland, Chrissie Amphlett has great vibrato and vulnerability.

Angela Toohey bears an uncanny resemblance to Minnelli and occasionally equals her power. Edwards has mistakenly demanded they play down the personalities and voices of Garland and Minnelli perhaps to avoid the roles outshining the character of Allen.

Gael Edwards production is slick, her staging echoing Allen's 80s concerts. Act one felt uncertain and the convention of talking to the audience awkward but act two was relaxed and more confident.

The chorus is tight with dancers posed stylishly in cabaret tableaux, choreographed by (Anthony Van Laast). Stage design (Peter J. Davison) cleverly relies on an empty stage peppered with single enormous images: a spiral staircase, Opera House or the Qantas symbol behind an hilarious chorus of air stewards.

Accolades go to McKenney who gambols in glittering shirts (Roger Kirk) to make Allen's heart flutter. The band, under Max Lambert, were in fine form. A major flaw was the backing vocal trio's independent numbers. Murray Bartlett as Allen's lover, sings a superb and unembellished version of I Honestly Love You and Garry Scale's cameos were exceptional.

Of course, I Go To Rio is the finale number complete with bananas galore on headdresses. 

Kate Herbert

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