Rio comes to Melbourne with The Boy from Oz opening this week! Director Jason Langley is no stranger to The Production Company or to the show; this is his third TPC show (having previously worked on Brigadoon and Dusty). We spoke about his vision for the show, and how his friendship with Nick Enright has influenced him in working on the show.

“When I was asked to direct a production for the 20th anniversary I was absolutely chuffed, and quite humbled, particularly to do such an iconic Australian musical. I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of it,” Langley said.

Working on The Boy From Oz with The Production Company is very much a familiar, almost family affair for Langley, who has been around the show through friends since it’s inception.

“Nick Enright was a very good friend of mine, so I was there throughout the whole creation of the show. I remember having huge chats to Nick about how you approach writing a bio-musical and writing a musical starting with existing pop songs, and how do you make those pop songs active within the story telling. Nick didn’t want to write just a bio-musical, he was one of our most amazing Australian playwrights, so he was much more interested in writing something that was much more complex. You can see it in the way he uses the past and the present and intermingles parallel realities throughout the storytelling in the piece,” Langley said on his friendship with Enright, and how he was writing the show.

It’s been sitting on the sidelines of his life and his psyche for some time, he reflected, as he was very much around during the creation of the show.

“It was interesting to get the call from The Production Company to do The Boy From Oz, I thought do I take that on, having it been such an integral part of my life already, and there’s already been three fantastic Australian professional productions of it – I thought what can I bring to the table with this?” Langley said.

He’s delved back into the text to discover thematically what the show is about.

“It seems to be that the show is very much about what makes us, us, and how the essence of us is revealed to the world, and certainly for Peter Allen it was his song-writing. There are two sides to Peter Allen that are presented in the piece: the Peter that has the boundless stage energy and that sexual presence and naughty wit, and there’s also, through his songs is revealed someone who has had pain in their life and solitude. His tenacity is a huge theme in the piece.”

“Peter has to confront and accept the truths of his life, the demons of his life, before he could ascend to great heights and become a great songwriter and show man. This is realised at the end of act one, where he has the realization he’s not the boy next door and he doesn’t have to be, he can release his own truth to the world and set his creativity free, not having to confirm to what society wants,” said Langley.

Jason Langley headshot

The director was tight lipped on revealing how this show would be different, his design and vision for the show and what iconic dance moves and moments from previous productions would or wouldn’t be included.

“The show has a Peter Allen in concert theme running through it, however Nick Enright has created a universe where ghosts of the past come rushing at Peter, so we had to work out what that was for us. I spoke to the designers about creating something that was a purgatory …. I don’t want to give away too much about what my concept is … but we wanted to create a universe where Peter could understand and live in as well as allow those ghosts of the past and those memories come back to him,” he said.

Less conceptual was very much the way Enright wrote, which Langley is honing into in this production.

“You read his plays and they’re very rarely linear form, so I’m going back and honouring a lot of Nick Enright’s original intentions, because I know at the time he was a little conflicted with writing a piece in the way he’d like to, but also having to deal with commercial viability. There were things back in 1998 that they didn’t really want to show on stage, but I think audiences are smarter now, they’re more intelligent and more accepting. I think there are things we’re going to do that couldn’t be done in the original,” he said.

“As a director I always research the writer’s intentions, and as Nick was a friend I was kind of living through the creation of it. I kind of know what his intentions were first hand, so I’m going to do my best to honour those. I’m not setting out to deliberately create something totally different, and put my own stamp on it, but I think that’s inevitably going to happen. I’ve got a different cast, we have a wonderful new Peter in Rohan Browne, and he’s going to bring something quite different that’s his own flavour to it. Loren Hunter is playing Liza Minnelli and she’s going to bring her own flavour to that as well. I think a brand new cast and a new director are inevitably going to bring new things to the show. Styles have changed in 20 years, I have a different approach to something like ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, and I have a different approach to the song ‘Rio’, at the end of the show, that are perhaps more bound by 2018, and how society and Australia see’s the world at the moment.”

Rehearsals for something like this are a real jigsaw puzzle – Langley said it nearly took longer than the rehearsal period itself to put together the rehearsal schedules alone!

“I think a lot of people don’t realise a director starts work six months to a year before, and sometimes even more. I started work on this in January. You have to draw together your co-creatives, so I started meetings with the costume designer and the set designer, with the choreographer and the lighting designer, started my discovery and research. What you see when a show gets to rehearsals even, is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a long road to get a show on, so this one has been about six months, and we cast the show quite early – a whole lot has been going on in preparation before we get to the rehearsal stage,” Langley said.

boy from oz

“Working with The Production Company is like working with lovely family, you know, coming down to Melbourne to do these shows you are welcomed back into the family home, so it is a real joy, and I’m expecting this one to be the same as the last two I’ve done. And I know how Rohan works, he knows how I work (They worked together on Brigadoon), and over the past few months we’ve been having regular phone conversations, and we had two days together in Sydney working through the material and watching Peter Allen concerts together. It was quite fun, we would point out moves and go, “That! Store that away!”

Jason Langley would like the audiences to walk away, especially young people, feeling like they can achieve great things if they stick with it and if they are tenacious enough – a great message of hope and persistence that is an essential part of Peter Allen’s story.

Journey to Rio and see the immense amount of work that has gone into putting together this special 20th anniversary show, for the show, the company and the leading man (who got his big break in the original show). The Boy from Oz opens at The Arts Centre on Saturday 11th August for 17 performances, until 26th August.


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