When we got the call that Todd McKenney was in town to promote his upcoming ‘Duets‘ show with Georgie Parker, we naturally ‘step-ball-changed’ to grab some time with him. Chatting casually over some splendid coffee at the delightful The Henry Austin on Chesser Street, it was a candid, relaxed McKenney that sat opposite myself during our interview. He’s charming, articulate, and bloody talented. The triple threat has been treading the boards for most of his life and, with a string of successes under his belt including his starring role as ‘The Boy From Oz’ (Peter Allen), he hasn’t much left to prove.” I always knew what I wanted to do & despite being ragged a bit in my younger days, I’m living my dream.”
Teaming up with the lovely Georgie Parker, whom McKenney met 32 years ago at a dance class, the pair will grace audiences with a series of duets ranging from Elton John/Kiki Dee to Tina Turner/Jimmy Barnes, Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers, and more. Adelaide gets its turn on August 5th at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
Known mostly for her acting roles, McKenney assures us that Parker’s voice is her best kept secret. “As you know, Georgie does Carols in the Domain every year and I ended up doing it with her after skipping a few years. When we were rehearsing we just got on so well, and laughed a lot. She was my dance partner for years-so I asked her to come on tour with me and sing some songs in my show. She said yes and so I thought ‘why not do a whole show?’ We sang through a few songs, some from ‘Crazy For you’ and then the Duets idea happened. It’s a feel good, sing along to everything show. We literally Googled the top 100 duets of all time and arranged them. It’s finally happening!”
McKenney assures me that all the songs are known and will have audience members singing and clapping along. “You’ll be singing them while you’re leaving the theatre and for weeks after….and there’s a little banter in between. There might be a few surprises thrown in as well. We’ll take a few moments for some Q & A, as there’ll likely be some of Georgie’s fans from her Home and Away experience. We’ll open the floor up and give the show a unique feel every night.”
I couldn’t help but ask about The Boy From Oz (BFO), and how McKenney found his character. It’s one of his most notable roles, and without wanting to ‘flog a dead horse’, his portrayal of one of Australia’s most flamboyant success stories is intriguing. “I had the support of the family, I was friendly with Peter’s sister Lynn even before BFO started. The family gave me his shirts, a pair of glasses, shoes and jackets…there was a history about them. The way they made you feel when you put them on, his shirts for example, as soon as I wore them it helped me with his movements because they were slim fitting. I got locked away in a studio for 6 months prior to rehearsals and we sat in a room from 9-5 for 6 weeks and watched whatever we could, listened to cassettes the family had of Peter singing at private gatherings. I’m not really anything like him nor do I sing & dance like him, but it was his chat that had the hook. He had the audience in the palm of his hand because he was honest. To get away with being flamboyant in that era, you had to have had something. It was his honesty. He was witty and charming. He taught me how to talk to an audience.”
McKenney says he is able to pick up the Peter Allen character and put it down quite easily after doing it for so long. His audiences expect it, and he’s happy to give it. To be clear though, it isn’t a Peter Allen impersonation by any stretch, it’s Todd McKenney celebrating Peter Allen.
We discuss many things as time passes, his search for love, his family, alternate career choices, and the late Chrissie Amphlett, who played his mother in the Boy From Oz. “We were like brother and sister. We fought about stupid things like art, colours, and go on for ages. She was very dry, and wackily elegant. A serious rock chic with style and a brilliant actress/singer. She helped me learn to be comfortable in the studio.” McKenney dotes on the late rock singer, and shares many a fond moment he got to share with her.
We get talking about his TV persona, and I feel the he’s comfortable enough for me to ask about the ‘real’ Todd McKenney. “I’m not really that judgemental at all in real life. I don’t compete with anybody, I wish everybody well, I rarely give people advise so as to not appear arrogant. Criticism isn’t really in me, but I basically ‘put on a show’ when I’m on TV, I bung it on a little. Most of the time on Dancing With The Stars I’m very tongue in cheek. “
I push the envelope a little further and ask about Todd’s love life. He’s still single and despite openly looking for love a while ago, he’s not really phased either way for the time being. He’s content with manicuring his immaculate garden, is an avid art lover, and has his Greyhounds to keep him busy. One is named Joey and the other Nancy Hayes- delightfully camp! He’s a practitioner of Auslan, and loves working with the deaf community.
He also loves spending time with his daughter Charlotte, who he conceived through IVF with Actress Anne Wood. The arrangement is distant, with McKenney residing in Sydney and Wood in Melbourne, but there is a certain twinkle in McKenney’s eye’s when he mentions her. “She’s 10 now..she’s gorgeous. She’s starting to notice the ‘celebrity’ thing, and the ‘gay’ thing…Having kids changes everything. I’m trying to get her into art, she’s liking it. Anne does a brilliant job of parenting, she’s structured where I’m a bit more freeform. We have a good balance with that.”
He has further interests in pursuing art brokerage, and mentoring upcoming performers about the production side of theatre in place of being on stage. He has the smarts, the experience, and the profile to achieve it.
Overall, McKenney seems to be in a particularly good place in life. He has success, recognition, and despite the fame he has realistic interests and aspirations.
It’s been a fantastic chat, and I can only admire the man even more for his willingness to share his life so openly, genuinely, and without any of the pretence that is often associated with performers. It’s like I’ve struck up a conversation with an old friend, there’s such a familiarity with McKenney that has made for a comfortable, enjoyable conversation and to top it off, he’s a really lovely guy.
Todd McKenney with Georgie Parker in ‘Duets’ will hit Adelaide on August 5th at Her Majesty’s Theatre. You won’t want to miss these two great showbiz names sharing the stage!
By Dazz Hassan
August- Saturday 5th: Her Majesty’s, Adelaide http://www.bass.net.au/events/todd-mckenney-and-georgie-parker/
Follow Todd and Georgie
Thanks to :
Brent Leideritz Photography
The Henry Austin