All about Allen

The Boy From Oz (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre

March 5 – April 23

When a jukebox musical is as biography of a solo performer, its success will always come down to one thing above all others… the star of the show. Thankfully, Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production of “The Boy From Oz”, is headlined by William Toft, whose performance as the Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen is magnificent. Toft embraces every opportunity afforded by the demanding role in his energetic and emotional performance, matching the man in movement, manner and voice. From the moment he takes the stage, his cheeky confidence, charismatic vitality and chatty humour, assures the audience that they are going to be in good hands as they journey through the concert-style show, inset with trips back to key events in the late Allen’s life.

Flashbacks to Allen’s early Armindale days allows for audience introduction to Brady Burchill, who plays a young Peter, whose spirited performance, especially in tap numbers, is excellent. These scenes are handled well, allowing for Sally Daly’s strong dramatic portrayal of his warm and unassuming mother Marion, without dwelling excessively on his father’s problems. A solid, sensitive performance is also given by Nathan Hollingworth as Peter’s boyfriend Greg Connell, whose death from AIDS preceded Allen’s own by almost a decade. And Hannah Kassulke and Jessica Elise Moore give vocally pleasing performances as Allen’s wife Liza Minnelli and mother-in-law Judy Garland, resulting in a stirring Act One highlight with ‘Quiet Please, There is a Lady on Stage’.

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This is a show about its songs. Whether they be ones written or performed by Allen, audience members are sure to recognise and respond to the range of emotions evoked – from the intimacy of ‘I Honesty Love You’ and ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’ to a touching ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ tribute to the musicians’ much-loved grandfather, and rousing, anthemic ‘I Still Call Australian Home’.
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Music comes courtesy of a live band from atop a raised on-stage platform and though they do a decent job, there are some moments where music over-awes dialogue. The bigger problem, however, comes from many mis-lit moments. After a shaky technical start, sloppy and strange lighting choices often detract from the overall quality of the production, serving to highlight the sometimes clumsy choreography that clutters the stage and the essential blank background screen not being utilised to its potential.

At the other end of the spectrum, the format’s deliberate fourth wall breaks and inset Bandstand ads and archival footage only adds to the appeal and feel good factor of this popular musical. Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production ticks many, but not all of the boxes, however, its celebration of an incredible Australian from his humble beginnings to ultimate stardom is still worth a look for fans of the genre. After all, how can you not have fun at a show that ends with the signature song ‘I Go to Rio’, complete with maracas accompaniment?

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Photos c/o – https://www.facebook.com/artstheatre

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