‘The Boy from Oz’ was a Helpmann and Tony Award ‘Best Musical’ winner, as well as winning Peter an Oscar for composer of best song. With score and lyrics by Tenterfield musician, and grandson of ‘the saddler’, Peter Allen (born Peter Richard Woolnough in Feb 1944). The book and story of Peter’s life was by Nick Enright and Martin Sherman, they adapted the story into a ‘jukebox’ musical based.
Allen was married to Liza Minnelli for seven years before ‘coming out’. His partner of eight years died of AIDS, and this two-times Grammy winner also died of AIDS six years later in 1992 in California.
This show is part of the 21st birthday celebrations of the first production in Sydney; it has since been to places as diverse as Broadway and Lima in Peru.
The show ran for a total of 766 performances in Australia. The production starred Todd McKenney as Peter Allen, with the Divinyls, Chrissy Amphlett as Judy Garland and Angela Toohey as Liza Minnelli. In 2010 Todd returned to the title role of Peter Allen; and when in Perth the show also featured the vocals of the Penrhos College’s school choir.
These amazing two and a half hour performances can be seen each Friday and Saturday evening at 7.30 pm until 20th April. There is one Saturday matinée at 2.00 pm. This production by Koorliny Arts Centre and Kwinana Industries Council (one of the few caring councils) is staged in Theatre 1 in the Koorliny Arts Centre, in Kwinana.
The Scene: 1950s with Allen’s humble beginnings growing up in a small Australian town.
Set design is by Brad Tudor: the rear half of the stage holds the orchestra at stage level. There is a walkway along the rear of the stage, about 1.5-metres above the floor. The rear wall is constructed with well-worn, corrugated iron sheeting; a large advantage of this sheeting is that the hundreds of curves direct the music equally around the auditorium. This gave a wonderful blend to the orchestra. The metal fence between the band and the performance area also stopped the music overpowering the singers at the front of the stage. It looked good and worked very well.
The stage management was a huge task for Brittany Kirk, with such a very large cast making their entrances and exits, the moving of pianos, chairs and tables, a hospital bed, a seascape and a symbolised set of surfboards. The cast carried out many of the scene changes so quickly and unobtrusively that one wondered had the items just ‘materialised’? With fast costume changes and a potential for cast and scenery clutter blocking the wings, the whole show had to be well organised. Congratulations to Brittany and helpers, Eloise Kirk, Erin Kirk, Karyn Stafford and Mollie McGarrity.
My personal favourite prop was in the Radio City scene there was a 1960s TV studio camera, complete with lens turret, ‘working’ electrical viewfinder, all mounted on a studio pedestal – most impressive. The old knucklehead ribbon mic brought a smile.
Brad Tudor’s lighting design was smoothly operated by Craig Griffen. The follow spotlight was a very narrow beam, which is usually difficult to operate, however Samuel Kirk proved to be one of the best, by thinking ahead and anticipating the actor’s next move and their speed, the actor was always centre spot.
The soloists used Sure dynamic vocal cordless microphones. The large range of headsets, stand and hand microphones were rarely on stage for more than a couple of minutes, but thanks to Mollie McGarrity’s supervision of the cast’s handling of the equipment, sound designer and operator, Alex Coutts-Smith was in top form and never missed his cue.
Christian Ingram’s photography enhanced Jon Lambert’s impressive programme and poster. The show began with several minutes of well-resourced adverts and news clips from the late 50s and early 60s projected onto the rear wall.
The musical begins with a flashback 25 years. Australian performer Peter Allen (Jesse Lee Angus) is recalling his life story and coming to terms with who he was. We then go back further to Allen’s childhood in Tenterfield, a tiny place in outback Australia. He recalls when, as the ‘young boy next door’ named Peter Woolnough (Angus Thomson), he performed in local bars for money. His mother, Marion Woolnough (Natalie Burbage) is pleased to see the youngster get acting experience, however his miserable father, Dick Woolnough (Grant O’Neil) is furious at seeing his son in a boozy pub.
Peter grows up and is pushed by Wally Bell (Colin Howe) into joining his son, Chris Bell (Lincoln Tapping) and forming the Allen Brothers. They performed in Australian Bandstand. Peter then set up a trio of attractive ladies, Karen (Ruth Bennett), Shena (Shanice Tudor) and Linelle (Janine Upson) who wore mini-dresses smothered in sequins and – for that decade – daring indigo satin jumpsuits.
After great success in Australia, the Allen Brothers performed in the Hong Kong Hilton. One evening, someone was watching them from the bar: the legendary Judy Garland (Rachel Monamy – wonderful). Judy is depressed, so Peter convinces her to perform with them. Judy then takes Peter to be the opening act in her concert in New York. Here he is introduced to Judy’s daughter, Liza Minnelli (Elethea Sartorelli – superb), and they fall in love. There are rumours of Peter’s homosexuality and Judy warns Liza of this, but they marry.
Alone, Peter returns to Australia but on talking to an old theatrical agent friend (Geoffrey Leeder), he realizes that he is no longer the person that people thought he was. Back in the USA, Peter meets successful fashion model Greg Connell (Jordan Jackson). they fall in love. Peter and Greg are discovered by music producer Dee Anthony (Murray Petrone) and his clinging wife, Valerie Anthony (Casey Edwards). Petrone gets them a gig at the Copacabana in New York, highly successful but to be followed by sad times.
The Ensemble: this ensemble was not simply an adjunct ‘chorus’. Everyone knew their characters, met all demands and were integral to the superlative main cast. They included Patrick Dawes, Hannah Harn, Maxim Laffont, Andrea Lim, John McCarthy, Christie McGarrity, Adele Murphy, Tenille Palfrey, Melle Smith, Katie Sullivan, Kairen Thorpe, Katie E. Williams and RP van der Westhuizen. Many congratulations.
Peter Allen Orchestra is directed by the last year’s Finley award winning Best Musical Director, Taui Pinker. Taui is an unassuming person, and this shows in his handling of the orchestra. There were soft numbers filled with emotion and one or two belters, where the full brass section got full reign. Beautifully balanced and sensitively played.
The musicians were: Wayne Griffiths, Talitha Dunn and Andrea van Graan all on reed; Paul Marion on trumpet, Bryce Henderson on Trombone, Christian Ingram was on bass, Vlad Sturdy on guitar, Alex Kent on drums and Sam McSweeney and Kate McIntosh both on keyboard.
Director Brad Tudor, Musical Director Taui Pinker and Choreographer Allen Blachford have worked together tremendously. Their intense planning is obvious. No detail has been overlooked or hurried in their aim to give the audience the very best. Allen (Blachford) gave us a series of vibrant and inventive routines; and then showed us that not only could he teach but was a brilliant hoofer himself. The adults were amazing, but young Angus – national winner of tap dancing – was unbelievable, not only could he dance, but his singing and general stage presence was that of a professional with years of experience.
The dozens of intricate costumes were designed and supervised by Brad Tudor and Kate McIntosh. Their seamstresses Kate McPherson, Alexis Kirk, Katie E. Williams, Lyn Leeder, Margaret Willison, Sam Carson, Belinda Kirschke, Jacqui McGarrity and Monique Mulligan did an outstanding job. The outfits included the colourful South American Carmen Miranda outfits complete with maracas, to the Roxettes wearing tasteful little black numbers, with huge cowl collars in the form of piano keyboards.
The Tamed by Trent wigs also ranged from wild to reserved, and they stayed on! A rare event in energetic dance sequences.
Towards the end of the show, and after two dozen stunning numbers, the handkerchiefs came out for Jesse’s rendition of the 1980 song, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. Just as in the Qantas commercial of 1998, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbGuqmaDgLA , the stage filled with youngsters dressed in the Qantas white shirts and long black skirts or trousers. Many Australians would love to see this song of Allen’s become the National Anthem – however, Qantas own the copyright.
The energy packed show finished on a high, with another masterpiece ‘I Go to Rio’.
When an audience has classic songs like these two, well ingrained in their minds, the demands on the cast to give us a quality rendition can be a little unfair, however, this cast led by the phenomenal Jesse Angus and great musical backing, gave us a closing act to remember for years.
What a show. Director Brad, musical director Taui and choreographer Allen have done it again!! Theatrical magic.
In Perth a spectacle like this would cost you more than a $120 a ticket, with programmes $20 each. Koorliny has given us all TOP QUALITY at a fraction of the price – and you even get a Todd McKenney lookalike for no extra charge. There are VERY few tickets left, so good luck. OUTSTANDING.