Theatre Review: Todd McKenney Sings Peter Allen

Peter Allen was one of Australia’s most popular entertainers. Having portrayed Allen in the original Australian run of The Boy from Oz, Todd McKenney knows about his subject.

Presented by Todd McKenney and the Harbour Agency
Reviewed 7 May 2016

Peter Allen was one of Australia’s most popular entertainers. Up until his death in 1992, his showmanship and tenacious theatrical spirit continually gained fans worldwide.  The years since have seen his work re-appraised with his song-writing and singing skills highly regarded.  Whilst his hit songs including I Go to Rio, I Still Call Australia Home, etc are still standards, how he enthralled audiences from all walks of life is an ability few have.  With his life the subject of the popular stage show The Boy from Oz and a recent TV mini-series, it proves Peter Allen remains part of the entertainment psyche.

Having portrayed Allen in the original local theatrical run of The Boy from Oz, Todd McKenney knows a thing or two about his subject.  Like Allen, McKenney has done the hard yards in developing a persona of broad appeal.  Known for his stints as the waspish judge on TV’s Dancing with the Stars and his many stage and screen roles, McKenney’s all-encompassing entertainment skills mirror that of Allen’s gifts.  Presenting an evening of Allen’s songs as well as others, McKenney’s presence is immediately felt.  Possessing the same dynamic energy, McKenney continually bounced around the stage like a musical whirlwind.  The essence of Allen’s songs weren’t lost however as he was careful to inject the emotive power of the lyrics with a verve making Allen proud.

Backed by a 5 piece band of pianist, drummer, percussionist, bass-player and strong-voiced female singer, McKenney crafted a collage of colourful fun.  Between songs, he told tales of his times as Dancing with the Stars judge and hilariously weird anecdotes of audience reactions to The Boy from Oz.  Whilst telling these often ribald yarns, McKenney’s talents at audience participation was evident.  Embracing the crowd, he presented a sometimes almost intimate evening, letting them in on a few salacious secrets like any friend would.  This is something Peter Allen also excelled at as he endeared himself to his fans by not taking himself too seriously and not treating them like fools.  Like a keen mischief-maker McKenney pulled 2 ladies onto the stage for some numbers, having harmless fun and enjoying the spontaneity the evening’s concept provided.

Although the songs, staging and music were fantastic, occasionally the pacing of the show sagged. This was keenly seen during the monologues between songs which tended to outstay their welcome.  They were still interesting but could have been edited down and replaced by more of Allen’s amazing work.  Despite this, McKenney proved he is a born showman – willing to go the extra mile in conjuring high-quality entertainment.  The mix of energetic tunes and ballads were perfectly blended as familiar and less well-known Allen tunes received an airing.  This was a type of show everyone could enjoy proving the timeless quality of the songs which will keep the flame of Allen’s creativity alive for generations.

Todd McKenney’s tribute to Peter Allen was a fun, entertaining evening worth anyone’s time.  Whilst the show’s rhythm was sometimes slow, you couldn’t fault those on stage who delivered a generally exciting package of zesty verve which Allen would have raised a well-chilled Pina colada to.

Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Twitter: @PatrickMoore14

Season: Ended

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