Review: The Boy From Oz @ The National Theatre (Melbourne)

Theatrical deliver another fantastic night out with the emotional, celebratory ‘The Boy From Oz’ at The National Theatre.

'The Boy From Oz' - Image © Nicole Cleary

With this being my second experience of a Theatrical production (the first being ‘The Sound Of Music’), I knew what to expect – some great local talents bringing the joy of theatre to crowds in an affordable, accessible location. Luckily, these expectations were met once again, carried by a story known far and wide about a man with boundless talent.

Matthew Hadgraft’s Peter Allen captures the performer’s flair and love of performing well. He’s a joy to watch, and the show’s format means he’s able to freely rally with the audience and react in real time to any responses he gets from excited attendees. This creates a relaxed atmosphere in the room, the fourth wall is broken and we as the onlookers can breathe.

Matthew’s interpretations of the songs are great. He has a talent for captivating a crowd and getting us to listen to him, which aids greatly in his mission of telling the story. His speaking and singing tones both feel authentic enough to Peter’s legacy, which means I’m sold almost instantly.

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Image © Nicole Cleary

Highlights from Matthew are of course the explosive ‘I Go To Rio’, the patriotic and emotionally-charged ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, and the symbolic, beautiful, no-holding-back ‘Once Before I Go’.

Peter’s story feels slightly convoluted throughout ‘The Boy From Oz’. Flashbacks and flashforwards are scattered unevenly across the show, making it a little difficult to stay on track sometimes. However this is not a huge downside – there are enough colours and fabulous songs to entertain on their own, and while the story is of course the central purpose of this show’s existence, 'The Boy From Oz' is also just a great excuse to go and watch a bunch of talented people singing some songs.

Backing Peter up are his three singers – these are three hugely gifted performers who deserve a show of their own. Angelina Sevastopoulos, Sylvia Kokkinos and Tara Lichtenstein steal all the attention and rather than what in other shows could be an obvious, slightly irritating buffer between costumes and scenes, their performances are 'moments' in and of themselves, and I’d even say more would be welcomed! Sylvia Kokkinos in particular knows how to command an audience; her vocals are beautiful and her stage presence impressive.

Saskia Penn’s Judy Garland is certainly a showstopper, with a great talent, but she feels a little like a caricature of Judy in a cast of more grounded and nuanced performances. While there’s essentially nothing at all wrong with her portrayal on its own, and she performs without any discernible fault, it may just be that it doesn’t fit in the jigsaw puzzle of personalities here quite as much as the others.

Maureen Andrew is warm and loving as Peter’s mother Marion. The unconditional love she has for her son oozes from her gorgeous performance from beginning to end, and her solo song ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’, oh boy – it’s heartbreakingly good.

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Image © Nicole Cleary

Young Peter Allen, tonight played by Reuben Koronczyk, is a total charmer! His performance of ‘When I Get My Name In Lights’ is so much fun, especially when he’s joined by a crowd of onlookers who watch on in adoration. He’s a great asset to the show and broadens Peter’s story and character with ease.

Sarah Monteaux is a complete showwoman as Liza Minnelli. She nails Liza’s commanding presence, her mannerisms, and her cheekiness – as well as her softer and more considered side. Every time she appears, you know you’re in for a camp time. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised to see Sarah’s name cropping up on the stage more in the near future.

‘The Boy From Oz’ from Theatrical is such fun. It’s colourful, silly, funny, emotional and introspective. Some time jumps and flashbacks feel slightly jarring, and the ensemble could have benefitted from a few more rehearsals to tighten up a small handful of transitions and blocking – but overall it’s light, explorative but not too deeply shaded, and just a good reason to head to the theatre.

So, this reviewer asks. . . What’s stopping you escaping a cold Melbourne winter night, to go to Rio?!

This story originally appeared on our sister site, scenestr.