William Toft as Peter Allen with the glittering dancing girls.
The Boy From Oz
Music and Lyrics by Peter Allen
Book by Nick Enright
Directed by John Boyce and Ruby Foster
Brisbane Arts Theatre
Season: March 5-April 23, Bookings: 07 3369 2344 or artstheatre.com.au
There’s no doubt about this production. It is a gold plated hit for the Arts Theatre and a huge feather in the caps of harassed directors John Boyce and Ruby Foster. It looked good, sounded good and the stage was filled with top talent, brilliant music from a nine-piece orchestra, with Lara Boyle doing a great job as Musical Director and of course Peter Allan’s songbook.
It is the story of Aussie star songwriter and performer Peter Allen; so to make this huge show - and it is massive in scale - a success the director needs someone who can channel the star perfectly. You also need actors who sound like Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli.
As Peter Allen we had the amazing youngster William Toft. He is a final year students at QUT but stood out with sheer ability, a warm personality, and a great voice. He managed to create the difficult trademark phrasing of Peter Allen’s music without a problem and used Allen’s physical moves too either at the grand piano or stage front. He was also on the ball with a couple of costume mishaps (in one he lost his “Rio” shirt in a quick change but never turned a hair!)
And above all he nailed the personality of the late singer.
The Boy from Oz is always a bit personal for me. When Peter Allen came back home for his concert tour in the 1970s I spent a long lunchtime chatting with him and saw the vulnerability, sadness and gentleness that lurked below the surface of his flamboyance and defiance. I left the lunch feeling a little sad for him but liking him a lot.
I saw Todd McKenney in the original run of the play and thought he captured the man beautifully. I did not see Hugh Jackman’s Broadway version of course, but still feel McKenney’s version was perfect and fitted in with the man I knew.
Now William Toft did the job the same way. I saw the essence of Peter Allen materialise on stage with all its facets. He is to be congratulated.
Also credit must go to the boy who played the young Peter Allen, the tap-dancing Mickey Rooney type of a guy Brady Burchill. He aced his role too and had the audience in the palm of his hand. Top marks also to Sally Daly as Marion Woolnough, Peter’s Mum.
Now to the other pair of roles that need to be the best – Judy Garland and Liza Minelli.
Jessica Elise Moore played Judy and certainly had the vocal chords to sing her songs and the booze raddled raspy speaking voice. I enjoyed her performance. Hannah Kassulke played Liza extremely well too.
There was a cameo double from Alex Lanham, which brought its share of laughs, and the song and dance ensemble was nicely in tune, in time and in step, a rarity for a non-professional dance troupe.
The costumes, designed by Michelle Peloe, were winners with constant changes for the entire cast and each set was nicely made, fitted well and never look cheap.
To accommodate the large cast the stage was taken out to its full width, which left no room for sets! Not that they needed one for all the scene changes and moods was excellently created with Geoff Squires’ lighting design.
The dancing too was pretty good with some hard work from choreographers Sarah Jane Jones and Jess Page paying off.
I had a ball watching the show and highly recommend it to musical lover – it has quality is entertaining and you won’t be paying $100 plus for a seat!
Above: The cast in opening night celebration mood.
Below: William Toft with Eric Scott.
(Photos by Deanne Scott)