The Boy from Oz Review - Peter Allen's Life in Music

From the original book by Nick Enright and the book by Martin Sherman, Peter Allen’s life explodes onto the smoky, dark stage of the Celebration Theatre with the energy and vigor that led to Broadway and five Tony Awards in 2004 (including Best Musical and Best Actor for Hugh Jackman). Peter Allen’s life began quietly enough in a small town in rural Australia – but a talent like his could not be confined to the countryside.  Beginning as a child, he delighted small audiences – which gradually grew larger and larger – until he became a show-stopper in Australia. It was in Hong Kong that he met and charmed music icon Judy Garland, who hired him and brought him back to the U.S. There his career blossomed, and he focused his unique talents on cabaret performances and composing music and lyrics, writing hits like “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “I Honestly Love You.” There too he met and married Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli. The marriage lasted only three years, but the couple remained friends until his death. Then the scourge of the 80’s struck – AIDS. A musical favorite in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Peter Allen gave his final concert in Sidney, Australia. To paraphrase his own words, he did not go quietly. In 1992, he said his final farewells while continuing to delight his audience until the very end.

Andrew Bongiorno and Marcus S. Daniel - Photo by Casey Kringlen

Andrew Bongiorno gives a brilliant performance as Peter Allen, the “Ozzie” who made it big. His is a tale of lemons and lemonade, a man who rose above barriers and turned them into stepping stones. Both a powerful dancer and melodic singer, Bongiorno promises to retrace Allen’s steps in the theater. Bess Motta, playing Judy Garland, and Jessica Pennington, portraying Liza Minnelli, bear an uncanny resemblance to the original duo – with powerful voices to boot.  This dream trio is surrounded by talented singers and dancers who add to the general mood of excitement mixed with tragedy. The audience can again appreciate Allen’s musical repertoire, which is the backbone of and backdrop for this fascinating musical biography.

Andrew Bongiorno and Bess Motta - Photo by Casey Kringlen

Talented director Michael A. Shepperd manages to coordinate the drama, songs, and dance into a delightful whole. Janet Roston’s choreography keeps the dancers on their toes – literally. As a team effort, THE BOY FROM OZ earns an A+. It’s no small feat to reproduce a life with compassion and verve – and keep the audience smiling and toe-tapping through it all.

Erica Hanrahan-Ball, Shanta Marie Robinson, Chelsea Martin, and Andrew Bongiorno - Photo by Casey Kringlen

The action takes place in and around a nightclub-like venue created by scenic designer Yuri Okahana; the set is simple yet effective and suited for a life-long cabaret performer like Peter Allen. Derrick McDaniel’s lighting and Eric Snodgrass’s sound add an irreplaceable dimension to the musical proceedings. And let’s not forget the costumes, which are absolutely breathtaking; all those silver and sequins convey a fantasy world which is Allen’s true hometown. As if that’s not enough, a live band accompanies the action throughout. Musical director Bryan Blaskie and his cohort of musicians ably flesh out Allen’s abundant musical contributions.

Andrew Bongiorno and Michael Mittman - Photo by Casey Kringlen

THE BOY FROM OZ runs through June 19, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Celebration Theatre is located at 6760 Lexington Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. Tickets are $40 and $45. For information and reservations, call 323-957-1884 or go online at www.celebrationtheatre.com

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