The Man on Keys – 20 years of The Boy From Oz with Michael Tyack

Thirty years’ experience as a pianist and musical director, two previous Production Company shows, and two previous runs of The Boy From Oz, including the original – Michael Tyack is the perfect person to bring to light the music and story of Peter Allen, for both the show and The Production Company’s 20 year anniversary. I chatted to Tyack as rehearsals began, about how they are putting the show together, his journey with the show and how it will differ to previous productions.

“It’s interesting how revisiting something after 20 years, you look at it in terms of how society is now,” Tyack said.

Michael Tyack was involved in the very first version of the show, starring Todd McKenney, and the arena tours with Hugh Jackman.

“It was brand new, and an Australian musical, that seemed to be having a lot of resources and hope pinned on it. To revisit it 20 years later is quite exciting. I can see why The Production Company want to do it; I think it was one of their most successful shows, and it’s really lovely to have seen Todd McKenney do it 20 years ago, which really launched his career in a big way, and with Hugh Jackman in 2006, and now with Rohan (Browne), it’s really fabulous to see what everyone brings to it,” he reflected.

Rohan Browne Boy From Oz

“Todd, being the first, and being a reasonably good friend of Peter Allen’s sister, he was very much finding his way with it, in his responsibility to create the role in the first place. Hugh was a funny one. He’s obviously done so much work on it – he did the Broadway season for a year, but the tour was designed to be a ‘featuring Hugh Jackman’ kind of show. For Rohan, I think he’s just done what they’ve all done and immersed himself in the world of videos and YouTube and stuff… I guess when we did it first off in 1998, there wasn’t much in the way of YouTube!” Tyack laughed.

“I think they sink themselves into all of that Peter Allen, and then assimilate that into their own personalities, and bring this essence of Allen, without doing an impersonation – his cheeky wit, his very quirky style of movement – it was so much just him expressing himself. His accent was such a strange little mix of things!”

Tyack was one of the people who did a lot of work to put the music into the original show in 1998.

“We all did a lot of work on making the choice of songs appropriate and to make the right choice for the people, within Peter Allen’s catalogue but feeling free to adapt them. All of the productions will all have slight differences in the dance music, and there’s going to be some new stuff in this one. I think Michael Ralph (choreographer) has such a creative mind. There are some musical things that he really wants to do with it … it won’t affect the actual songs, but maybe the way they are played and the style that they are done in,” Tyack explained.

“I’m doing a lot of writing of new bits, and assembling the best way to do the numbers. Take a number like ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, which you can do it all sorts of ways: when we first did it in 1998 (to be very musical about it) we put some of it into 4/4, which made it very nationalistic and anthemic, almost march-y kind of theme, whereas the original was in 3 /4, and how times of changed and now that doesn’t feel quite right to do that with such an iconic song. It’s little changes like what does the song mean now, and what does Australia mean now?”

The Boy From Oz was a special show for Tyack when it began – it was based on a real person and real songs, worked on with friends and colleagues like Nick Enright, but mainly because it was their own Australian production, which has paved the way for so many more new Australian works over the years.

“There were no references to overseas, you weren’t being influenced by anything other than what everyone agreed was the way to go with the show. So often with Disney and other shows, there can be such a rigid template to work in, whereas this one we were able to completely make it up as we went along. It was one of the first times that I’d done a really big musical where we were all able to contribute freely to the actual creation of it”, he reflect on the original production.

Michael Tyack previously worked on Dusty and Brigadoon with the company, so he’s no stranger to the high standard of work and intense rehearsal periods of The Production Company.

“The Production Company have a nice way of using people they have used before; they’re very loyal, there’s a lovely family atmosphere around The Production Company shows, of everyone pitching in, knowing what the workload is and buckling down and doing it. It’s a lovely atmosphere and a lovely place to work,” he said.

His favourite part of putting together a show is usually the rehearsal period.

“Sometimes getting in and doing the show is really fun – it does slightly vary a bit, but generally speaking I would say rehearsals, where you watch people come to grips with stuff, the whole shape and sculpture of the show starts forming and it’s great and I have such admiration for actors and dancers and singers – what they are asked to do is extraordinary and it’s great to watching them do it,” he said.

With iconic songs like ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, ‘I Go To Rio’, ‘Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage’ and so so many more, this is your chance to celebrate an Australian legend and momentous anniversary with one of Melbourne’s premier theatre companies.


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Stay tuned for part two of my deep dive into The Production Company’s Boy From Oz with director Jason Langley.