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The Boy From Oz

The late entertainer/song-writer Peter Allen was from Australia, brought to America by Judy Garland in the late 1960s, was a major success in his field, married to Garland’s oldest daughter, Liza Minnelli, for seven years, and tragically died from AIDS in 1992, at the age of 48, after coming out as a gayman.

The biographical musical based on his life and music, debuted in Australia in 1988 and on Broadway in 2004, starring Hugh Jackman, who subsequently won a Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award. This new production at the meaningful LGBT theatre, Celebration, is a West Coast premier. And a bloody good production it is!

Celebration’s veteran leader/director, Michael A. Shepperd has produced a rousing show, with excellent musical direction of Bryan Blaskie and superfine choreography by Janet Roston. And attracting an excellent cast headed by Andrew Bongiorno as Allen. Bongiorno has found the inner man and projects him in great voice and dance – it’s a terrific performance. He’s also supported by Bess Motta as an amazing Judy Garland and Jessica Pennington as Liza Minnelli; both women have some physical resemblance to the two performers, mother and daughter, but emphasize the thoughtful performance styles. The audience was giddy with delight at them both. The balance of the members of the company was also exemplary.

The Lex Theatre, where Celebration is now housed, is a small space and there’s a certain level of theatrical magic in how Shepperd and his tech staff (Yuri Okahana’s layered set design; Derrick McDaniel’s fine lighting plot; Eric Snodgrass’ sound design; and Michael Mullen’s costuming) manage to make it seem larger.

Allen had a solid life in show business, performing right up to the end, with the usual problems associated with being gay or bi-sexual at that time. The show consists of his work and, overall, it’s alive, energetic, sad, loving and popular.  Profound? Not a whit.  But is it listenable, especially in this theatrical context?  Oh, yeah!  Especially in Shepperd’s opening, where we meet the characters, one after another, as they glide on and off the stage. Essentially, this is a strong production of a weak show – much of the music too often sounds like a previous song and watching self-absorbed folk isn’t all that much fun, but we’ve sat through worse – a lot worse! – so go and see this for yourself.

“The Boy From Oz” plays through June 19th, 2016, at the Celebration-at-the-Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038.  Tickets:  323.957.1884.