The Boy From Oz is terrific at the Gateway Theatre

Pictured L to R: Justin Genna* as Peter Allen, John-Thomas Hanson as Mark, John Charles Quimpo as Chris and Leandra Ramm* as Judy Garland in THE BOY FROM OZ, directed by John Fisher; a Theatre Rhinoceros Production at The Gateway Theatre. Photo by David Wilson.

The Boy from Oz: Musical. By Nick Enright & Martin Sherman. Music and Lyrics by Peter Allen. Directed by John Fisher. Theatre Rhino, Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., (at Battery St.) San Francisco, CA. Musical Direction by Sheela Ramesh; Choreography by Kevin Hammond and Christina Lazo.

October 28-November 17, 2018

The Boy From Oz is terrific at the Gateway Theatre. Rating: ★★★★★

Theatre Rhino has pulled out all the stops with their energy filled yet bittersweet production of The Boy from Oz the musical biography of the legendary Australian singer, song-writer performer Peter Allen (played by Justin Jenna). The show was a smash hit on Broadway in 2004 earning Hugh Jackman a Tony Award in the lead role. It is a song filled jukebox tune fest buttressed with choreography, top-notch singers, great costumes and a storyline that might bring a tear in the second act. 

Peter Allen is the narrator of his autobiography (“The Lives of Me”) and Justin Genna invests the role with élan from the opening sequence when he bounds on stage for a tap dance number and introduces young Peter (Cameron Zener) whose ambition is to have his name in lights on Broadway.  His alcoholic father (Kim Larsen) has other ideas but his devoted mother (Larissa Kelloway) gives steadfast support.

In his early years he teams up with guitar playing Greg Connell (Justin Lopez) and they become the Allen Brothers earning local fame that earns them a trip to Hong Kong. They give a hilarious rendition of “Waltzing Matilda” in Mandarin ! A chance meeting with Judy Garland (Leandra Ramm) belting “All I wanted was a Dream” was almost a show stopper. She convinces Peter to come to New York to be the opening act for her show.

In New York Peter falls in love and marries Liza Minnelli (Carol Walker). Judy has warned her about Peter’s sexual ambivalence “Don’t Wish to Hard.”  Liza and Peter eventually break up with the plaintive “I’d Rather Leave when I’m in Love.” Peter then hooks up with Chris (John Charles Quimpo).

Act one ends with a charming duet by mother and son “Not the Boy Next Door.”

All this happens in the first act and the second act adds to the accolades and introduces the true love between Peter and Greg with “If You were Wondering.”  Success follows success and Peter earns idol status and eventually Hawaiian shirts become his trademark costume.  A plethora of songs follow one after the other and the show stopper “Everything Old is New Again” sung with the Rockettes is one of the jewels.

The juxtaposition of the specter of AIDS with the heart rendering “Love Don’t Need a Reason” and “I Honestly Love You” is disheartening yet hopeful. Through all this “I Still Call Australia Home” and Larissa Kelloway gloriously sings “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” This leads to Peter’s final solo “Once Before I Go” I go to Rio with the return of young Peter and the ensemble belting out the finale.

The direction, pacing, dancing and costumes earn individual accolades that collectively create a winning performance ably backed by the three piece onstage band of piano/keyboard (Sheelah Ramesh), Guitar/Bass (Nicholas Martin and Drums (David walker). Runnig time is about two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

CAST: SuzyJane Edwards (Dee/Trio/Ensemble); Max Fischer (Young Peter – W/Th); Justin Genna (Peter); Larissa Kelloway (Marion/Trio); John-Thomas Hanson (Stage Manager/Mark/Trio/ Ensemble); Kim Larsen (George/Dick/Announcer/Dealer/Ensemble); Grace Liu (Josie-Leslie/Girl/Trio/Rockette/Trio/Ensemble); Justin Lopez (Announcer/Trick/Greg/Trio/ Ensemble); John Charles Quimpo (Chris/Trio/Ensemble); Leandra Ramm (Judy); Carol Walker (Liza); Cameron Zener (Young Peter – F/Sat). (The role of young Peter is double cast.)

CREATIVE CAST: Directed by John Fisher; Musical Direction by Sheela Ramesh; Choreography by Kevin Hammond and Christina Lazo; David Draper (Costume Designer); John Fisher (Director); Kevin Hammond (Choreographer); Colin Johnson (Lighting Designer); Christina Lazo (Choreographer); Stephanie Rose Niemann (Ass’t. Director/Stage Manager); Sheela Ramesh (Music Director); Joe Tally (Ass’t. Director); Bert van Aalsburg (Scenic Design).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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