Firstly, I’ll get the three degrees of separation out of the way. I used to go out with a guy who was good friends with Peter Allen, who himself went out with Liza Minelli, who is of course Judy Garland’s daughter. I’m happy I’ve been this close to Oz.
In being with someone who knew Peter well, I admit I have never heard anything untoward about the guy.
Until the story of Peter Allen was told in The Boy from Oz, that is.
I can’t believe it has taken me this long to see the bio-musical about Allen’s life. It might have something to do with the fact I don’t care much for musicals and often consider them cheesy. But since the central character in this musical was a very musical guy, I could only assume it would be good. Scrap that. It’s brilliant.
The current incarnation of The Boy from Oz at Crown Theatre, Perth, has been produced to high Broadway standards. Everything from the backdrops and props to the music and lighting is presented to an inch of perfect.
As for the cast, I was super-impressed with lead actor/singer/dancer Ethan Jones, a WAAPA graduate who makes his big stage debut in this gig. The story goes that Jones merely responded to a local call-out for cast a few months ago. And boy did the panel pick good. Ethan acts, sings and dances his way through a storyline that’s as convoluted in subplots as your everyday soap opera. And he even plays piano. The perfect all-round artist to pay tribute to another all-round artist.
To many, Peter Allen was “that camp guy who rattles maracas singing some song about Rio”, but the singer-songwriter’s talents are so much broader, and Jones’ emulation of Allen plays testament to this… for the most part.
You don’t get to see how broad that talent is in the first half of the show. This instead consists of a first act about a kid from a small town with dreams of getting his name up in lights, and a second act in which he encounters a fading Hollywood star whose help soon gets his name right up there.
The story of how Peter Allen encountered film legend Judy Garland is well-enough known. But it is the smaller intricacies that make this particular path a truly golden one. As The Boy from Oz relays it, Allen was singing old-hat songs in a dingy bar in Singapore in which Garland was dining when she got up in a huff realising the singer on stage was Australian (this following her dismay with Australia after she was booed for bad performances in Melbourne).
Garland’s infamous struggle with alcohol and substance abuse is infamous but none of this is highlighted in The Boy from Oz, and that’s probably a good thing since it’s not really a show about her. Mind you, the performer who plays Garland, Lucy Williamson, deserves all the limelight she gets. In short, this gal is a superb performer – hitting higher than high notes and effortlessly emulating that Garland drawl – with or without the mention of alcohol.
It’s a pity I can’t say the same about the Elethea Sartorelli who plays Liza Minelli. While their names may rhyme, the latter isn’t the best replica of the former, not in the first half of her performance, anyway. Here, Sartorelli comes across as too meek for Liza’s rambunctious personality – which was renowned beyond theatre circles.
It is ironic that the director and choreographer of The Boy from Oz is a guy named Drew Anthony, given Peter Allen’s latter-day manager was Dee Anthony. But beyond serendipity, it must be said that Drew has done a awesome job in bringing Allen’s life story, well… to life! Even the sadder parts have been approached with a celebrated sensitivity that neither diminishes their importance nor tilts over on the naff-o-meter.
The Boy from Oz has given me a new appreciation for the musical at large. I might not be ready to see Back to the Future as a musical yet (and, yes, it’s a thing) but relay the colourful life of a music icon in song, and I’ll likely be lining up for tickets.
‘The Boy from Oz’ is on at Crown Theatre until February 7, 2021.
Tickets are available at www.crownperth.com.au.