Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Boy From Oz ***

Todd McKenney stars as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz 
Songs by Peter Allen, book by Nick Enright, by Production Company
 State Theatre, until Aug 22, 2010 with return season in Jan 2011
Reviewed by Kate Herbert

IF you sing along or play your mime maracas to I Go to Rio on the radio, you'll love The Boy From Oz. 

And, if you are a fan, or even a foe, of Todd McKenney on Dancing With The Stars, you can toss roses (or something harder) at the stage as McKenney reprises his role as Australia's absurdly camp expatriate performer and songwriter Peter Allen.

This new concert version opened on Wednesday night and a mischievous McKenney gleefully prances, minces and shakes his maracas and sequined loud shirts, looking totally at home as Peter Allen, having successfully performed the role in the original, late `90s Aussie production. Hugh Jackman replaced him on Broadway.

The clever book, written by Nick Enright, depicts the light and shade of Allen's life. We see the child's budding showmanship, his rise to stardom, marriage to and divorce from Liza Minnelli, the death of his male partner and his father's suicide.

Veteran musical star Nancye Hayes provides taut and sensitive direction, weaving Andrew Hallsworth's vivacious choreography among the narrative.

 Musical director John Foreman leads a tight band in a repertoire featuring Allen's best loved tunes, including Quiet Please There's a Lady on Stage, Everything Old is New Again, Tenterfield Saddler, I Still Call Australia Home and a sassy, Latin, carnival-inspired version of I Go To Rio.

The inimitable Christen O'Leary, as Judy Garland, captures the tremulous, tottering star in her final days, singing All I Wanted Was The Dream. Fem Belling captures Liza Minnelli's spirit in Sure Thing Baby, a Bob Fosse-inspired Cabaret scene. David Harris, as Allen's partner, sings a heart-wrenchingly beautiful version of I Honestly Love You and Robyn Arthur is impassioned when singing Don't Cry Out Loud as Allen's supportive mum.

The chorus of dancer-singers, including a special trio of talented gals, is delectable.

McKenney is dynamic and versatile as Allen but he shares the lead with Allen's memorable songs. The Boy From Oz is one of a few Australian-born musicals to make it overseas and it is a suitable homage to Peter Allen's exceptional body of work and flamboyant personality.

The Boy From Oz runs at the State Theatre until August 22 and will return for another season in January.

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