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A CurtainUp Review
The Boy From Oz

. . .a man just like any other man, unlike any other man
---that man just like any other was of course Peter Allen, who, as played by Hugh Jackman is sufficiently more than just like any other performer to make Peter Allen worthy of the costly, kitschy Broadway tribute entitled The Boy From Oz.
Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen
(Photo: Joan Marcus )
Peter Allen was a singer-pianist-songwriter whose flamboyant life and career was snuffed out by AIDS at age 48. His story isn't particularly original or uplifting, nor is it dramatized with anything less than standard techniques of the hero as audience addressing narrator. The music, while neatly packaged as if it had been written for this musical myography, isn't all that great either.

So why spend your money on this grade B musical that's had enough money thrown at it to masquerade as a grade A extravaganza? Believe it or not, I was able to come up with ten reasons to tell you that you could do worse. I'll count them up for you but with this caveat: Without reasons 1, 2 and 3, the rest would collapse like a sandcastle when the tide rushes in.

  • Reasons 1, 2, and 3: Hugh Jackman, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Jackman. Until somebody writes a genuinely original musical worthy of the triple-threat Australian, The Boy From Oz is a fine showcase for his talents and personality. He's tall, dark and handsomer than Peter Allen, who like him hailed from Oz (short for Australia). Unlike Allen he doesn't play the piano, but from what I can recall, his acting, dancing and singing is superior and there's a sparkle in his blue eyes that's irresistible. For those who have become Jackman fans from seeing him as Wolverine in the X-Men films will be delighted with Jackman Live and as a bonafide musical star. His relaxed presence oozes likeable charm. (Actually, Jackman has long been a musical star in Australia and nabbed an Olivier for his portrayal of Curly in the London revival of Oklahoma.

  • Reasons 4, 5, 7, 8: Four standout support performances. While Jackman is the heavy lifter not only in terms of selling tickets but as the show's charismatic center, he does get a strong assist from several supporting players, four of whom are standouts.

    As Judy Garland boosted Allen's career when she hired him and his partner as her opening act, Isabel Keating adds a splash of grotesque fun as the middle-aged Judy who gave Allen his chance at American success and probably his claim to fame in the tabloid archives as his mother-in-law after he married her daughter Liza Minelli. If you look closely, Keating doesn't really look like Garland, but the gestures and expressions are so on target that the illusion smacks of the real thing. Her singing, while not as dead-on as the physical persona, has enough Judy-ish resonance to make for a portrayal that could well stand alone in a cabaret or TV impersonation show. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Stephanie J. Block, who not only doesn't look like Liza but doesn't seem to get her. (To her credit, Block has a nice, belting voice and would probably do well in a role that doesn't call for her to channel a living celebrity.

    In the more straightforward role of Allen's always supportive mom, Beth Fowler is the sort of warm loving cheerleader to make Jackman-Allen's always ready to look on the bright side personality believable. Her "Don't Cry For Me" is one of the show's more affecting solos. Michael Mullhearn hits two home run with two small parts -- first as Allen's less loving parent and most notably as Allen's gruff, wise-cracking agent.

    Not to be passed over, there's 11-year-old Mitchel David Federan who as young Peter embodies the song that winds up the first act, "Not the Boy Next Door." Without being typically adorable to look at, a fact not helped by his droopy short pants, he steals the show whenever he turns up, whether climbing the piano (there's something of an over- abundance of piano climbing throughout this show) to sing "When I Get My Name in Lights" or as part of the big "I Go to Rio " finale.

  • Reason 9: The fabulous closing number. Speaking of that "I Go to Rio" finale this Busby Berkley extravaganza with a spectacular drop-down piano keyboard staircase makes for the sort of bang-up ending that Broadway does best. Unfortunately, this is also the only full scale production number. (Robin Wagner's other scenic work is effective, especially the changing cityscape backdrops). The re-creation of Allen's famous appearance with the Radio City Rockettes is cleverly done with mirrors and cutouts backed by real dancers but it seems to flash by too quickly. Director Philip Wm. McKinley would have done well to cut short some of the bathetic scenes between Peter and his lover Greg (Jarrod Emick a good singer who does the best with a stereotypical character) or the Peter and Liza scenes. The Australian flag waving "I Still Call Australia Home" could have been cut altogether.

  • Reason 10: William Ivey Long's costumes. Long, as usual, adds a touch of elegance to the costumes even though he must adhere to the flash and glitter of the Allen era. He is at his most brilliant though in helping Keating and Black capture the instantly recognizable look of Garland and Liza.
Assuming Jackman stays around to sustain the above list, there will be moments during the first act that might make you wonder if this might not have been better as a Judy Garland bio-musical. Some of the costumes may also strike you as having been thriftily designed with an eye to recycling them for future musicals about Tommy Tune or Liberace -- and Judy Garland. There are also times when you'll wish you'd brought cotton to give your ears a rest from Michael Gibson's deafeningly amplified orchestrations. All in all, The Boy From Oz stands like Mount Everest above Peter Allen's own 1988 Broadway venture Legs Diamond. While Allen couldn't keep that show afloat, Jackman does have the " legs" to persuade theater goers to follow Allen's journey from Outback to Rio.

THE BOY FROM OZ Music of Peter Allen & Others
Book by Martin Sherman
Original book by Nick Enright
Director: Philip W. McKinley
Choreographer: Joey McKneely
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Peter Allen), Mitchel David Federan (Young Peter), Beth Fowler (Marion Woolnough), Michael Mulheren (Dick Woolnough and Dee Anthony), Timothy A. Fitz-Gerald (Chris Bell), Isabel Keating (Judy Garland), John Hill (Mark Herron), Stephanie J. Block (Liza Minnelli), Colleen Hawks, Tari Kelly and Stephanie Kurtzuba (Trio), Jarrod Emick (Greg Connell).
Set Design: Robin Wagner
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Donald Holder

Sound Design: ACME Sound Partners
Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Music Director: Patrick Vaccariello
Orchestrations: Michael Gibson
Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
Dance Music Arrangements: Mark Hummel
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. Imperial, 249 W. 45th St., ((Broadway/8th Av), 239-6200
Tues through Sat @ 8PM, Wed & Sat @ 2PM, Sun @ 3PM $101.2, $81.25, $71.25, $61.25 - Wed Mat $91.25, 71.25, 61.25, 51.25
From 5/18/03; with 10/16/03 opening.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 22nd press performance

Musical Numbers & Scenes
Act One
  • PROLOGUE - Peter in concert
    The Lives of Me. Peter
  • The 1950s SCENE 1 - Various locations in Tenterfield, Australia
    When I Get My Name in Lights . Boy & Ensemble
    When I Get My Name in Lights: Reprise. Peter
  • The 1960s SCENE 2 - Australian Bandstand television performance
    Love Crazy . Chris, Peter & Ensemble
  • SCENE 3 - Hong Kong Hilton Hotel
    Waltzing Matilda . Peter & Chris
    All I Wanted Was the Dream . Judy
  • SCENE 4 - A small Chinese bar/Street in Hong KongfNew York City
    Only an Older Woman . Judy, Peter, Chris & Mark
    Best That You Can Do. Peter & Liza
  • SCENE 5 - Peter and Liza's apartment
    Don't Wish Too Hard . Judy
    Come Save Me. Liza & Peter
  • SCENE 6 - Peter and Liza's apartment, months later
    Continental American . Peter & Ensemble
  • SCENE 7 - Liza's act
    She Loves to Hear the Music . Liza & Ensemble
  • SCENE 8 - Peter in concert
    Quiet Please, There's a Lady On Stage. Peter & Judy
  • The 1970s SCENE 9 - Peter and Liza's apartment I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love/Liza & Peter
  • SCENE 10 - Marion's Home
    Not the Boy Next Door/ Peter & Marion
Act Two
  • SCENE 1 - Reno Sweeney
    Bi-Coastal. Peter & Trio
  • SCENE 2 - Peter's apartment If you Were Wondering . Peter & Greg
  • SCENE 3 - Dee's office/The Copacabana Club
    Sure Thing Baby. Dee, Greg, Peter, Trio & Male Ensemble
  • The 1980s SCENE 4 - Radio City Music Hall, January 15, 1981
    Everything Old Is New Again . Peter & The Rockettes
  • SCENE 5 - Peter's dressing room - Radio City
    Everything Old Is New Again: Reprise. Marion, Dee & Greg
  • SCENE 6 - Peter's apartment
    Love Don't Need a Reason . Peter & Greg
  • The 1990s SCENE 7 - Peter's apartment
    I Honestly Love You . Greg
    You and Me . Liza & Peter
  • SCENE 8 - Marion's Home/The Australian Concert/Peter in concert
    I Still Call Australia Home . Peter & Ensemble
    Don't Cry Out Loud . Marion
    Once Before I Go . Peter
    I Go to Rio. Peter & Company

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