Photos – Nicole Cleary

If you like Peter Allen, there’s a lot to like about The Boy From Oz.

The show tells the story of one of Australia’s most beloved entertainers – a biographical musical that follows Allen’s fascinating global career and life with Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli in bars and concerts across the world. It’s both an entertaining and moving story that aptly depicts the passion and joy Allen brought to the stages he performed on.

The legacy he has left was clear in the passion of audience members at Theatrical’s opening night. People were dressed up in colourful and sequined outfits, singing along during numbers and even dabbing their eyes in the sadder moments. I saw the couple next to me reach out and grasp each other’s hands a couple of times – maybe reminiscent of some past happy memories they’ve shared with Allen’s music.

A key element of any jukebox musical is nostalgia. As someone who wasn’t alive during the height of Peter Allen’s popularity and who knows little about him, that nostalgia factor was lost on me – and without that, I found Theatrical’s production left a little to be desired.

The book of the show isn’t straightforward, with Allen often breaking the fourth wall to then snap back into a scene, and scenes sometimes shifting quickly from one to the next. Therefore, clear direction is required to differentiate between scenes and keep audience engagement, which was unfortunately lacking. It was sometimes difficult to follow what was happening and some of the blocking and staging was jarring, which meant that more emotional moments didn’t have the impact they could have, such as when Peter’s father takes his own life. The slow transitions between scenes also impacted the pace of the show. Overall the choreography lacked dynamism, with lots of unison and static positions, which didn’t allow the joyfulness of the songs to be fully expressed.

That being said, the cast did well overall and there were some strong performances. Matthew Hadgraft captured the showmanship, joy and flamboyance of Peter Allen. He engaged avidly with the audience, had great piano skills and should be credited for performing such a demanding role.

Sarah Monteaux as Liza Minnelli was a standout. With a captivating presence, fantastic movement and killer vocals, she commanded every number she was in. Saskia Penn performed a convincing portrayal of Judy Garland, with good presence and lovely vocal tone. Maureen Andrew as Marion brought a grounded authenticity and worked very well with Reuben Koronczyk as Young Peter Allen, a multi-talented performer who we’re sure to see again on a musical theatre stage.

Other mentions must go to The Trio who sounded great together, with beautiful vocals in particular from Sylvia Kokkinos. Leighton Garwin was a heartfelt Greg, and Nathan Fernandez’s characters were a joy to watch.

Two of the highlight numbers of the show were Sure Thing Baby and I Still Call Australia Home.

If you’re a Peter Allen fan, I think this will be an enjoyable night out at the theatre.

Event details

Theatrical presents
The Boy From Oz
music and lyrics Peter Allen | book Nick Enright

Director Rhylee Nowell

Venue: National Theatre | 20 Carlisle St, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 6 – 21 July 2024
Tickets: $79 – $58

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