Sydney Season for Todd’s Boy From Oz Return
He was the original Boy From Oz. Now Todd McKenney has picked up the maracas once again. A two-week Sydney season has now been announced at the Capitol Theatre from March 2, following the Production Company’s sell-out Melbourne season in August and a return Melbourne Summer season from January 5 to 16.
Directed by Nancye Hayes with John Foreman as Musical Director and Andrew Hallsworth as Choreographer, Todd will be joined on stage by Christen O'Leary as the legendary Judy Garland, Robyn Arthur as Allen’s mother Marion Woolnough, Fem Belling as Liza Minnelli and Alex Rathgeber as Allen’s lover Greg Connnell.
The Boy From Ozis widely regarded as Australia’s most popular musical. It ran for a total of 766 performances over two years in the late 90’s and was the first Australian musical to enjoy a sellout season on Broadway.
David Spicer spoke with Todd about reprising the role before the Melbourne season in August.
Todd McKenney says the role of Peter Allen is in his blood. “At the first run through I didn’t even need the script. It is in my DNA,” he said. It’s no mean feat to remember such a huge a role 12 years down the track. I first met a fresh-faced Todd McKenney at The Sebel Town House in Sydney in 1998. He was alongside Producer Ben Gannon announcing the launch of a new Australian musical, The Boy From Oz. Todd revealed that he almost didn’t take the part. “I had met Peter Allen a few times, had been to his concerts and had been a big fan of his music. I hesitated at first because I didn’t want to kill my memory of him. I didn’t say yes straight away,” he said. It was only when the Director Gale Edwards told him she wanted someone to give an impression of Peter Allen rather than impersonate him that he said yes. Todd is mighty glad he took the role. “It changed my life. The journey opened a stack of doors, and I grew up as a performer. I had to command the stage and be the only person, as Peter Allen was in concert,” he said. “It was a massive education in theatre, which gave me the confidence to do many things including be a loud mouth on TV.”
The aim of the Producers, (the late) Ben Gannon and Robert Fox, had always been to take the musical to Broadway. When it made it there in 2003 the star of the show was Hugh Jackman. Todd has no regrets on missing out on the role. “I had my turn,” he said. But when Hugh Jackman toured The Boy From Oz to Australia in 2006 he didn’t see it. “When he came to town I was always in another city. However I’d left The Boy from Oz in such a great space in my psyche I wouldn’t have gone to see it,” he said. “I sent Hugh champagne though. Look, I did 766 shows. I had a pretty good go at it, ” he said.
Now aged 45, Todd is closer to the age that Peter Allen was as he is depicted in the musical. “It will be really interesting to see how it has changed and grown. My comic timing is now more mature. I am now not afraid of pausing,” he said. Todd says another reason why he was keen to have another go is because Nancye Hayes is directing the production. “We have a great relationship. I did Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks on tour with Nancye for a year and we became really close. I feel in very safe hands with her. We know each other’s language,” he said. The Production Company is known for staging more concert-like versions of musicals with the orchestra on stage. “We’re not selling it short, but presenting it in a different way. There still will be the flashes of Peter Allen brilliance. The orchestra will be part of the act,” he said.
The Boy From Oz has already been a huge hit for Community Theatres around Australia. Todd McKenney had this advice for other Peter Allens. “Try not to impersonate him, but capture his energy and enthusiasm for being on the stage. And remember he wrote those songs about his life; the lyrics are the most important thing in singing a song,” he said. Todd says he hopes there are more performances of The Boy From Oz scheduled for him soon. If he sprains an ankle there are lots of handy understudies around.
The Boy From Ozplays at the State Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne from January 5 – 16, then February 9 - 13, and the Capitol Theatre, Sydney from March 2 – 17.
Based on the article originally published in the July / August edition of Stage Whispers.
Check out Geoffrey Williams’ review of the Melbourne season http://www.stagewhispers.com.au/reviews/boy-oz-0
Photographer: Jeff Busby