The Boy From Oz tells the story of Australian entertainer Peter Allen, and how despite many trials and tribulations was still able to achieve success on the world stage. The production also examines his close relationship with Hollywood legend Judy Garland, as well as his marriage to Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli.
Unfortunately, this production lacked focus and pacing. Director Rhylee Nowell demonstrated limited understanding of the piece’s structure. Nick Enright’s text insists on the depiction of two settings– Peter’s present and Peter’s past. This production did not highlight the distinction between these settings at all, which led the production to become disorganised and confusing. The pacing, notably in the more dramatic scenes, seemed quite disingenuous. Furthermore, this left the audience feeling less empathic towards the characters and their situations.
Nowell’s choice to enter and exit characters through the audience was very odd. During the flashback scenes, it was highly distracting and awkward. However, the motif did work well in the concert setting, as it symbolised the intimacy and warmth Allen always wanted to convey as an entertainer. Nowell’s direction does exude an immense dedication and admiration to telling Allen’s story, which was definitely inspiring.
Nowell’s choreography was energetic and lively, particularly in numbers such as ‘Pretty Keen Teen’. However this energy became sadly lost in most other numbers. This was due to the cast being so congested and cramped. Performers hardly had any space to execute the moves, and as a result, the choreography became quite messy and untidy.
Nowell’s set designs demonstrated inventive ideas, however the restricting stage space disabled her designs from truly coming to life. The lightning design was also quite bland, with little variety in terms of colour or style being utilized. On a more positive note, the costumes were constructed and designed very well, effectively depicting the multiple eras of the story. Within the transitions from scene to scene, stage management was quite laboured in moving the set on and off the stage. Furthermore, this significantly interrupted the flow of the production.
Music director Matthew Hadgraft has assembled a talented cast of singers, which is most evident in numbers such as ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. But the principal cast would have definitely benefited from more guidance by Hadgraft, specifically regarding how to utilize musical dynamics as storytelling mechanisms. The band, under Hadgraft’s baton was quite tight and together, regardless of some minor tuning and timing issues during Act 2.
In the role of Peter Allen, Matt Jakowenko portrayed this much loved Australian figure with great commitment and skill. A gifted vocalist, Jakowenko’s crooner-like qualities offered an openness and sentiment that was highly touching. His performance of ‘Love Don’t Need A Reason’ became the standout moment of the night, demonstrating a raw authenticity and connection that was incredibly tender. Even though Jakowenko was very relaxed during the direct to audience moments, he seemed to be missing the playfulness and cheekiness Allen had towards his audience. Despite this, Jakowenko’s gorgeous smile and irrespirable charm never wavered. A heartfelt and engaging performance.
Saskia Penn embodied Judy Garland with flair and sophistication, but some of her character choices were too subtle and internal. As a result, the audience became confused by her intentions, which led to a less empathic portrayal of Garland. Within her song ‘All I Wanted Was The Dream’, Penn’s connection to the lyrics became so strong that the emotion began to overshadow the song’s purpose. Despite this, her mannerisms did capture Garland’s physicality quite well, and her application of vibrato was a nice touch of authenticity.
A talented singer and dancer, Hallie Goodman as Liza Minnelli glided gracefully across the stage in her number ‘Sure Thing Baby’. Disappointingly, it was within the book scenes that Goodman lacked energy. Furthermore, this made the audience become unsure about Minnelli’s intentions as a character.
Other memorable performances included Frankie Guida as Greg, whose performance of ‘I Honestly Love You’ was incredibly heartfelt. Ben Howell as Young Peter was also a standout. He is a young man with a promising future on the stage.
On the whole, MLOC’s The Boy From Oz depicts the story of this Australian legend with deep respect and admiration.