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Review - The Boy from Oz: well performed and staged

Shannon Foley as Peter Allen and Natalie Lennox as Liza Minnelli. Photo by Mark Duffus.

The Boy from Oz

Music and Lyrics by Peter Allen

Book by Nick Enright

Director: Miranda Selwood

Musical Director: Benjamin Tubb-Hearne and

Choreographer: Renee Allotta-Charman.

Presented by Savoyards

Iona Performing Arts Centre

85 North Road


Season: 28 September to 12 October. or phone (07) 3893 4321.

The Boy from Oz is the story of the very charismatic, late, great Peter Allen, following his life from the early days through to his Broadway success and performances in the Radio City Music Hall.

For those who do not know, Peter Allen (Woolnough) was born in Tenterfield, NSW and his grandfather was the saddler, giving birth to one of his very popular songs Tenterfield Saddler.

In some ways you might think he had a gifted, lucky life because as a teenager, he became a pop star and toured Asia, where he met Judy Garland, who took him on to London. There he met and eventually married her daughter, Liza Minnelli. And while this musical touches on all of the wonderful parts of his life, it also delves deeper into the darkness in his childhood, the break-up of his marriage to Liza, the death of his partner and his own battle with the same illness, which took his life in 1992.

The show is packed with Allen’s music – some extremely familiar and others not so. It also had the “I didn’t know he wrote that” effect.

Peter Allen was played by Shannon Foley, who did a superb job of recreating this amazing Aussie. Because the musical is played out like one of Allen’s concerts, the burden falls on Foley’s shoulders to keep it ticking along and link the pieces together. He did this admirable and his singing of Allen’s songs was well done.

Foley was ably assisted by Natalie Lennox who played his wife and life-long friend, Liza Minnelli. Lennox portrayed the vivaciousness of Minnelli, with a hint of humbleness and shynes. Judy Garland was played by Vanessa Wainwright, who did a marvellous job of the troubled woman behind the Hollywood façade. Her song All I wanted was the Dream speaks volumes of the turmoil Garland had within her, between the fantasy and the reality. Even from the grave, Judy makes ‘appearances’ in Allen’s life, still being his mentor.

The show flip-flops from present to past and back again, as the story of the young Peter Allen is told. Young Peter was played by Aiden Huntly, who did a marvellous job of When I Get My Name In Lights, in a scene that took place at the local pub where he had secured a job playing the piano. This scene was repeated slightly in the second half, making you believe that there has been a mistake, but it was to set the scene for what came next in the young Peter’s life.

Allen’s mother, Marion Woolnough, was played by Jacqui Curry. She was amazing and her rendition of Don’t Cry Out Loud was sung with power and was heartbreaking at the same time.

Allen’s trio, of Karen (Katyia Wills), Shena (Carly Wilson) and Linelle (Bronte Devine) were delightful and there were beautiful harmonies between the three as they ‘backed up’ Allen on stage.

Also worthy of mention in the singing department, was Luke Devine who played Greg Connell, Allen’s partner in later years. He nailed I Honestly Love You, which again was beautifully poignant and heartbreaking.

The three songs Allen is probably best remembered for—I Still Call Australia Home, Tenterfield Saddler and I Go To Rio were great and spot on.

The costumes were fabulous, Allen’s signature shirts brought to life, and in the big numbers were all that could be expected, especially Rio with the high feather head/shoulder pieces, sparkles, sequins, bright colours and heels. Rio was truly the biggest number of the musical, and it was worth waiting for. The rhythm, dancing and vibe just made you want to get up from your seat and join in the conga line.

The stage at times was split into three separate areas, with other backdrops moving on and off depending on the scene and were accompanied on the two televisions mounted either side of the stage by actual pictures of the real people being portrayed. There was a lovely tribute to Judy Garland following her death, showing the progression from childhood actress through to her later years.

The orchestra accompanying the cast was at times a little overpowering and drowned out the voices on stage, even though the actors were miked. The mics were also a bit up and down in volume, which meant that the audience sometimes missed out on the dialogue.

Overall, this was a good show. If you are expecting big song and dance numbers from whoa to go you will be disappointed—there are some quiet reflective moments in this musical as well. It was well performed and staged—hats off to Director, Miranda Selwood, Musical Director, Benjamin Tubb-Hearne and choreographer, Renee Allotta-Charman.

I enjoyed it.