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Review: The Boy from Oz at the National Theatre

Review by Jesse Oey

If you're up for a toe-tapping, heartwarming night at the theatre, The Boy from Oz never disappoints as your ticket to a glittery good time.

Showing at Melbourne’s historic National Theatre in St Kilda, this energetic independent production stars the buoyant Matthew Hadgraft as Aussie singer/songwriter Peter Allen, leading a dynamic cast of 29-strong performers.

Narrated through Allen’s point of view as he performs a show, we get taken on a journey through his life story - from his humble beginnings growing up in rural New South Wales and discovering his love of music (with the lively Reuben Koronczyk portraying young Peter), all the way to global superstardom.

A chance encounter in Hong Kong with the volatile Judy Garland (Saskia Penn) sparked Allen’s career and connected him with Liza Minelli (Sarah Monteaux), sending him on a winding path along the peaks and troughs of showbiz which culminated in global success.

Hadgraft shone brightly, embodying Peter Allen’s endearing Aussie charm and infectious flair. His love for Allen was palpable as he earnestly sang and danced his way through the 2-hour set, frequently breaking the fourth wall, cracking jokes and improvising with the audience.

As the show’s titular character, Hadgraft was completely in his element as he wove through an ever-changing set and numerous costume changes, shaking off subtle hints of opening-night jitters along the way. High-energy numbers like “When I Get My Name in Lights”, “Bi-Coastal” and “Not the Boy Next Door” complimented his natural ability to nail intricate choreography, while tender, quieter moments during “I Honestly Love You” and “Love Don’t Need a Reason” showcased his committed, sincere vocal performance.

Saskia Penn brought the essence of Judy Garland to life through mimicking the aging songbird’s little mannerisms and vocal stylings that were instantly recognisable. Penn’s portrayal of Garland in her later years was both respectful and restrained. A subdued, resplendent rendition of “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage” was a definite highlight partway through the set.

Sarah Monteaux brilliantly dazzled as the effervescent Liza Minelli, commanding every scene she featured in. Monteaux’s version of Minelli channeled her youthful, larger-than-life persona perfectly. Her and Hadgraft’s on-stage chemistry was beautifully showcased during the heart-wrenching duet of “I’d Rather Leave When I’m In Love”.

Rounding off the cast were brilliant supporting performances by Maureen Andrew as the endearing, ever-encouraging mother Marion Woolnough, as well as Leighton Garwin’s compassionate take on lover-turned-lighting manager Greg Connell. Andrew’s solo number in particular, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, was as an absolute tearjerker, underlying the tragedy of Connell’s sudden death from AIDS, and setting the tone for the sombre conclusion of the Peter Allen story.

What truly made this production shine was the infectious joy emanating from the vibrant cast and vivacious ensemble. Their enthusiasm was downright contagious, when tap-dancing to “Everything Old is New Again” or singing along to “Best That You Can Do (Arthur’s Theme)”. Everyone in the audience was swept up in their energy from the get-go, laughing, clapping, and even shedding a few tears along the way.

Whilst the overall pacing of the storytelling could be a little uneven at times, particularly when transitioning between past and present moments as well as changing set pieces around, ultimately the opening night showing was a luminous triumph.

This ambitious independent production of The Boy from Oz (meticulously delivered by not-for-profit theatre company Theatrical, with Andrew Gyopar at the helm) makes a poignant effort to faithfully honour the songs and story of a legendary Australian talent, with utmost care and compassion.

By the time the iconic classic “I Still Call Australia Home” and the joyous “I Go to Rio” arrived, underscoring the tale’s bittersweet conclusion, the entire theatre was utterly transfixed, lost in the lasting charm of Peter Allen’s timeless tunes.

The Boy from Oz is a must-see for anyone who loves a rich, emotive story, catchy tunes, and passionate top-notch performances. It's a celebration of an icon’s life, love, and the power of music, all wrapped up in one glittering package.

Image Supplied


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