Published on July 7th, 2024 | by Rob Mammone

The Boy from Oz Review @theatricalinc @thenationaltheatremelbourne

The Boy from Oz Review @theatricalinc @thenationaltheatremelbourne Rob Mammone

Summary: Entertaining comeback of a beloved Australian musical production. The Boy from Oz has it all, and then some!


Australian classic!

Starring Matthew Hadgraft as Peter Allen, Saskia Penn as Judy Garland and Sara Monteaux and Liza Minnelli. Directed and choreographed by Rhylee Nowell, with Alex Byrne as Musical Director and Andrew Gyopar as Executive Producer. A presentation by Theatrical. Playing at National Theatre, St Kilda, from 6 to 21 July 2024.

The Boy from Oz tells the story of Australian songwriter and entertainer, Peter Allen, who captivated audiences in Australia and the US during the 70s and 80s. A household name, he wrote songs for some of the biggest stars of the time, including Liza Minelli, Frank Sinatra, and Olivia Newton-John. He won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for ‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) in 1981. His life was further immortalised by this production, first starring Todd McKenney, and latterly Hugh Jackman, which brought his name, talents and songs to a new generation.

The production, by Theatrical, a Melbourne based community theatre company that focuses on live theatre with an emphasis on an inclusive casting policy. They provide training and development opportunities for up and coming performers in the fields of singing, dancing, set building – indeed, all aspects of the theatre experience.

This production of The Boy from Oz, if the opening performance is any guide, a definite crowd pleaser. The enthusiasm of the ensemble cast shone through to a near packed house, which embraced the production throughout. I was particularly struck by the youth of the cast, which indicates that the Melbourne theatre scene is in rude health with a large cohort of young talent ready to burst across the city’s stages.

The Man from Oz is not just the story of Peter Allen, but of his mentor, Judy Garland, played with verve and sass by Saskia Penn, and Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli (Sarah Monteaux). Of the trip, it is Monteaux who is the absolute standout. Not only does she looking strikingly like a young Minnelli, but she also manages to bring together the singer’s frailty and soaring vocal talent, especially in the song ‘I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love.’ Monteaux’s career has come a long way in a short time and if her appearance in The Boy from Oz is any guide, that career will be long and successful.

Saskia Penn does a bang up job as Judy Garland, bringing much verve and vulnerability to the role. Her singing, like that of Garland herself, is strong and at times soaring. Penn, in her occasional returns from the dead later in the production to provide Allen with some heavenly advice, brings a nice line in wry comedy, much to the audience’s appreciation and amusement. I note that Penn also played the same role in an amateur production in 2018, and if she shone then, she positively blazed in this opening performance.

I really enjoyed Matthew Hadgraft as Peter Allen. The role is something of a marathon, but Hadgraft had an appreciative audience in the palm of his hand from the beginning, and never let go. The cabaret style aspects of the performance, where he’s directly addressing the audience, is polished and amusing, and he handled the live aspects (when an audience member was in fervent, whispered conversation with an usher near the stage) of the production with a great deal of skill. The development of his relationship with Greg is handled sensitively, equally as sensitively as we see with his performance of the song ‘Love Don’t Need a Reason.’ His bravura rendition of ‘I Go to Rio’ is worth the price of admission, and had the entire audience singing lustily along.

Theatrical has done a really great job with bringing this production to Melbourne. It has packed its cast with a lot of bright up and comers, while allowing an experienced performer in Maureen Andrew as Allen’s mother a chance to bring real pathos and life to the role. The music is strong and the stagecraft, though simple, allows the performers the chance to really shine at the venerable venue hosting them.

All in all, The Boy from Oz offers the Melbourne audience an excellent opportunity to see a much heralded production in the ‘burbs (as it were) and if opening night is any indication, the audiences over the next few weeks are in for a real treat.

Photos Nicole Cleary

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