Savoyards present The Boy From Oz, directed by Miranda Selwood; a musical biography of Australian entertainer Peter Allen led by the man himself, celebrating the highs and lows of his life through a cabaret catalogue of his greatest hits.
Originally produced by Ben Gannon and Robert Fox, with book by Nick Enright (and music and lyrics by Peter Allen, of course), The Boy From Oz is the most successful Australian musical ever and the first to make it to Broadway. The musical charts Peter Allen’s rise to stardom, from his debut performance at the local pub up to his death. Born Peter Woolnough in Tenterfield, 1944, he became a popstar and met Judy Garland while touring Asia. Garland took him to London, where he met and married her daughter Liza Minelli. From sell-out shows at Radio City and winning an Oscar, to the Broadway musical flop that was Legs Diamond, the loss of his partner and eventually his own death, the milestones of Allen’s life are brought to the stage and set to his music, performed live by the Savoyards orchestra, conducted by the production’s Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne. Sound design by David Sowdon and David Longton was balanced, supporting the vocalists without overwhelming them, but microphone issues were persistent throughout the performance.
Shannon Foley was charismatic and conversational in the leading role of Peter Allen, and he built excellent rapport with the audience very quickly. Vanessa Wainwright did justice to Judy Garland, pairing cynicism and dry wit with soaring vocals and vibrato. Natalie Lennox captured the nasal voice of Liza Minelli, and her performance with the dance ensemble was a choreographic highlight. Jacqui Cuny was excellent as Peter’s salt-of-the-earth mother, Marion Woolnough, and her rendition of Don’t Cry Out Loud was spine-tingling. Walter Lago played the role of Peter’s father, Dick Woolnough, who gave a chilling performance despite being on stage for only a short time. Karen (Katyia Wills), Shena (Carly Wilson), and Linelle (Bronte Devine), Allen’s trio of backup singers, brought character and beautiful harmonies to the stage. Aiden Huntly was impressive as Young Peter, and Luke Devine’s emotional performance of I Honestly Love You melted hearts in his role as Greg Connell, although his broad accent was not always consistent.
Digital design by Laurene Cooper-Fox and Zane C Weber was projected onto screens above the stage, showing actual footage of Allen and other characters. This complement of video and images not only emphasised the biographical nature of the musical, but also the amount of effort that Savoyards had put into costuming and choreography. The choreography by Renee Allotta-Charman, with assistant choreography by Angela Schoemaker, covered a range of genres and, although the ensemble of dancers was not always synchronised, they admirably tackled the wide variety of styles, from chorus and Fosse to jazz, tap, and disco.
Set design by Charlotte Keen was full of moving parts and paid close attention to detail, complemented by Allan Nutley’s lighting design, and costume design led by Kim Heslewood was a seemingly endless swirl of sequins, colour, and texture, including Allen’s signature loud and colourful shirts. I Go to Rio, in particular, was a delight of colour, movement, and sparkle. The musical concluded with Once Before I Go, a stunning solo performance from Foley and a positive, powerful note to close the show.
Savoyards’ The Boy From Oz is an entertaining night out that charts the life and times of one of Australia’s breakthrough entertainers, packed with recognisable hits like Tenterfield Saddler and I Still Call Australia Home, and shot through with moments of poignancy and reflection.
For ticketing and further information, visit the Savoyards website.