Boy From Oz

I’ve just been to see the latest production of “The Boy From Oz”, the musical based on the life story of Peter Allen. For those unfamiliar with the musical or his work, Peter was an Australian singer-songwriter who achieved a great deal of success in America. He had a song-writing partnership with Carole Bayer Sager that resulted in songs like “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “Arthur’s Theme”, as well as “I Love You, I Honestly Love You” which was recorded by Olivia Newton John. He was also married to Liza Minelli and was very much part of the showbiz scene in the United States even if he wasn’t, perhaps, all that wel known. Growing up in a small country town in Australia, he seemed to feel a genuine affection for the countryside and penned songs including “I Still Call Australia Home” (an unofficial national anthem) and “Tenterfield Saddler”. Peter Allen died of an AIDS related condition in the 90s (yes, the marriage the Liza was brief!). His life story was then turned into a documentary, a book, and then a musical which featured Hugh Jachkman on Broadway, for which Jackman won a Tony Award.

For the last couple of years I’ve had a bit of a crush on Hugh Jackman. He’s good looking in the non-conventional way that I really like. But as of today, I think I could be on the verge of being a Hugh Jackman stalker. I thought his performance in “The Boy From Oz” was truly spectacular and well worth the exhorbitant ticket price we paid. Mind you, we had spectacular seats. Located in the first row behind the premium seats, we had no need to look towards the big screens for the emotional parts (as suggested by a friend who’d been on Thursday night), as they were there right in front of us.

Having read the newspaper reviews, I was a little apprehensive about seeing the show. A few of the reviews mentioned how his early life was skipped over in a way that wasn’t in the original Australian production which I’d enjoyed several years ago. I was pleased that Lismore still got a mention as the town in which Peter worked in a “leading menswear store” (was I the only person in the audience who knew it was George Gooley Menswear?). There was also a front page story in “The Sun Herald” today which made a big thing of the “missing gay kiss” (though dramatically the absent kiss was more in tune with the lyrics of the song – “If we both were born in another place and time This moment might be ending with a kiss” – so the absense of a kiss actually made sense and didn’t matter. From my perspective, this was like a combination of the original Australian production and some of Peter Allen’s broadway shows and for that I was pleased, though I’m glad we were close enough to see the show without relying on the video screens that would have been necessary further back.

Being up close, it was possible to see every movement, every word, and every emotion. It was also possible to see the genuine enthusiasm Jackman has for the subject and for the work. On occasion, you sensed he felt a sense of awe at being given the opportunity to play such an interesting character. How weird must it have been for a young boy from rural NSW to have found himself meeting the likes of Judy Garland, marrying Liza Minelli, and performing in the United States? Without wanting to read too much into his performance, I sensed Hugh may have had the same sense of wonderment.

With repise roles from the original Australian production, including Chrissie Amphlett as Judy Garland and Angela Toohey as Liza Minelli, you knew the cast understood and (I suspect) loved the show. And then there was Colleen Hewitt as Peter’s mother. Colleen has always been a favourite of mine. As a child, I vividly remember her record, “Day By Day”, for its passion, even if, at the time, I didn’t really understand the significance of the lyrics. As Peter’s mother, I thought she brought a greater authenticity to the role than Jill Perryman had in the original Australian production, and it was possibly because Colleen has known “hard times”. As she began to speak, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, there was a feeling that maybe she had lost her voice, but as she began to sing she clearly hadn’t. Now clearly post-menopausal, her voice was deeper, but with all the passion she could muster she sang the song with authenticity and sincerity. Her performance was a real show-stopper, especially as it followed on from a fairly confronting sequence in which Peter’s father kills himself.

Also touching was the performance of “I Love You, I Honestly Love You” by Peter’s partner, Greg, which caused a tear or two.

Another show stopper was “I Still Call Australia Home”. Although it had the potential to be very cheesy, especially as the segment drew its inspiration from the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, with Qantas choir and lots of flags, it wasn’t. I genuinely saw quite a few tears around the audience in a display of nationalism that lacked the creepiness that’s often so evident when the song is sung.

About the only song I was a little disappointed in was “Tenterfield Saddler” and not because of the performance. As a song about a young man growing up in the country, but pursuing his dreams in the city, it means so much to me. And even though Hugh sat down on the steps only about 15 feet away from where I was sitting, and sang the song with passion, I guess there’s something about the original version that means more to me than can be reproduced. Mind you, I thought Bette Midler did a terrific version last year, and also in the television special where she forgot the words. Maybe it was the humour she injected into the performance?

I think the reason I liked the show, so much, however, was the genuineness of the affection displayed by the actors for the work of Peter Allen and the authenticity of their performances. Oh, and Hugh… In stark contrast with Peter Allen who sweated like a pig, Hugh was on stage for almost all of the show singing, dancing, engaging and there wasn’t a sign of sweat! So yeah, I’ve gone from having a slight crush on Hugh to having feelings bordering on stalking.

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