A review by Bill Garry
Andrew Bongiorno (center) stars as Peter Allen with the company in the CELEBRATION THEATRE's West Coast premiere production of THE BOY FROM OZ, directed by Michael A. Shepperd and now playing at CELEBRATION THEATRE at the Lex. PHOTOS: Casey Kringlen
I did not see "The Boy From Oz," which opened on Broadway back in 2003, even though I lived in New York and was a big theatregoer. I couldn't see how a show about one man and a piano (singer-songwriter-showman Peter Allen) could fill a Broadway house and be worth two-plus hours of my time.
Well, now that I have seen the Celebration Theatre production of the show that made Hugh Jackman a star, I understand. The show is BIG. It's an explosion of action and charisma -- the book (by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright) is masterfully crafted; the music (by Peter Allen) exciting and story-forwarding; and the characters involved (Peter Allen, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli) larger than life.
Left: Andrew Bongiorno and Bess Motta )
Good news: in this new L.A. production, all of the above is still true. The talented cast, musicians and creative team deliver that big Broadway feeling.
The bad news is that the show is stuffed into the 55-seat Lex Theatre, heavily miked, and directed (by Michael A. Sheppard) for a bigger room. The choreography (by Janet Roston) feels stunted as up to 11 people fill the stage at a time for musical numbers. The show needs either a bigger room, or a more intimate conceptualization.
The story follows Peter Allen from an emotionally deprived Outback childhood through U.S. show business success, true love, and the tragedy of AIDS.
In the first act, Peter and his show business mentors -- Judy and Liza -- only show happy faces. In the second act, the masks crack as truths about show business, relationships, and family are revealed. I would have liked to see some of those cracks in the first act, too. (They may have been there, but the sound and activity volume on the little stage was overwhelming to the senses.)
(right: Jessica Pennington and Andrew Bongiorno)
One of the best things about L.A.'s theatre scene is the chance to see talent like Andrew Bongiorno, Bess Motta, and Kelly Lester -- three standout performers -- stretch and rise in their careers.
(Left : Andrew Bongiorno and Michael Mittman )
Mr. Bongiorno as Peter has the chops to follow Hugh Jackman to stardom.
Bess Motta as Judy gives a bravura performance. She was the most successful in showing the pain and loneliness behind the mask of glamour, and her star turns singing as the great Miss Garland brings down the house.
Kelly Lester as Marion, Peter's mother, holds the story together with a mother's sensitivity, worry, and hope. Her solo, "Don't Cry Out Loud," is the emotional climax of the show.
Jessica Pennington (Liza), Michael Mittman (Greg), Marcus S. Daniel (Chris) and company delight the audience with multiple costume and character changes. Michayla Brown (young Peter) steals her scenes.
"The Boy From Oz" is for people who want to celebrate the fun a
nd frolic of the 1980s (warning: nudity and gay passion is depicted), while also honoring the sadness and senselessness of the AIDs epidemic. Thanks to Peter Allen, we can now cry out loud.
The Boy From Oz
extended thru July 3, 2016
Celebration Theatre @ The Lex
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm
Many sold out shows, secure your tickets now!