Ethan Jones nails it as Peter Allen in the all singing, all dancing show, The Boy from Oz, says Rosalind Appleby.
The Boy from Oz, Platinum Productions ·
Crown Perth, 23 January, 2021 ·
Perth company Platinum Entertainment appears to be getting serious in its efforts to provide a platform for local artists. Its second musical in three months, The Boy from Oz, opened at Crown Perth on Saturday night, following on from We Will Rock You (November 2020). Later this year we will see Hot Show Shuffle and Les Miserables.
Apart from resurrecting live entertainment for West Australian audiences, the shows provide opportunities to put performers back on the stage, including many top entertainers who have returned to WA.
Conceived originally as a valentine to Australia’s great singer, songwriter and all-round entertainer, Peter Allen, The Boy from Oz was first performed in 2003, 11 years after his death. Based on a book by Nick Enright, the show uses a mix of stories and songs from Allen’s life – many of them his own – to convey his charm, larrikin humour and charismatic stage presence. The flamboyant “I Go to Rio” encapsulates his exuberant sense of fun while more biographical gems like “Tenterfield Saddler”, “I Honestly Love You”, “Quiet Please There’s a Lady on Stage” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud” help tell his story.
It’s a rag to riches story with an underlying current of tragedy and struggle, and it has launched the careers of stars like Todd McKenney and Hugh Jackman. They are big shoes to fill for Ethan Jones, who is cast in the role of Allen in this production.
But Jones’s fresh face belies years of experience in the music theatre industry on the Gold Coast, in Singapore and the US, and more recently at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. It turns out that, like his predecessors, he has charisma to burn; I found myself smiling every time he was on stage.
The role requires a diverse range of skills and Jones gets full points for dancing (his lithe kicks easily match the Rockettes’ dancing line), singing (effortless tune spinning while doing sit-ups on the piano) and charismatic energy (he sent the piano stool flying in one of his leaps on to the piano). Even more impressive was his piano playing – he accompanied himself in almost every song, erupting occasionally into spontaneous blues riffs – and his quick-witted repartee with the audience: “You want to go to Rio? We can barely get to another state let alone another country!”
The clincher for me was his heartfelt acknowledgement of the Noongar traditional owners (warmly received by the audience) before launching into “I Still Call Australia Home”.
The show profiles the decline of Judy Garland’s career alongside the rise of Allen’s – Allen was married to Garland’s daughter Liza Minelli from 1967 to 1969, divorcing in 1974 – and Lucy Williamson is marvellous as the ageing Judy Garland, whose throaty singing is raw with emotion. Garland provides the mettle to the show, passing on her mantra about giving the audience all you’ve got while simultaneously demonstrating the elusive and dangerous nature of stardom.
Elethea Sartorelli sparkled as Liza Minelli, and her cabaret performance of “Sure Thing Baby”, flanked by dancers in black suits and white gloves cleverly illuminated under the UV light, was a highlight.
Drew Anthony’s directing and choreography sizzle in the big set pieces (thanks to the excellent ensemble work), but more attention to detail might help some of the supporting cast. Casey Edwards was a little wooden as Peter’s mum, and the trio of Angels (Carrie Pereira, Melissa Erpen and Sophie Foster) needed to own the spotlight a little more. Peter Cumins was sweet as Peter’s lover, Greg, and Lucky Farrell erupted with enthusiasm as Young Peter.
Joe Louis Robertson’s astute musical direction kept the pace high while the two-tiered set, lavish costumes (Dani Paxton) and lighting (Trevor Patient) brought the show an 80s showbiz glitz – even the baby grand piano sparkles!
We can’t get to Rio or Broadway but productions like this are a good reminder there’s plenty to love about still calling (Western) Australia home.
Pictured top: There’s real showbiz glitz in the new production of The Boy from Oz at Crown. Photo supplied
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