Todd McKenney has come back to his role of Peter Allen, who he first played in <i> The Boy From Oz.
Photo: Jeff Busby </i>

Todd McKenney has come back to his role of Peter Allen, who he first played in The Boy From Oz. Photo: Jeff Busby Photo:

Todd McKenney: Songs and Stories of Peter Allen

Canberra Theatre, Friday, October 26.

Reviewer: Alanna Maclean

Versatile singer, dancer and actor Todd McKenney  is sweeping through the country on a tour that can only be called ''if it's Friday, it must be Canberra''. Canberra gave him a full house of enthusiasts for a show that not only pays tribute to singer-songwriter Peter Allen but also shows what McKenney can do.

And that's a lot. He bounces in, backed by singers Lisa Callingham and Kirby Burgess, dancers Melanie Hooper and Brendon Midson and a decent-sized band under the direction of Max Lambert at the piano and takes over the stage for the next couple of hours. He talks to the audience and soon has them where they want to be, listening to stories that circle back to Peter Allen and the influence he had on McKenney's career. Gobsmacked at an early age by seeing Allen in concert in Perth, McKenney eventually originated the role of Allen in the biographical musical The Boy From Oz.

Those in the audience of the right age find themselves reminded of Judy Garland and Liza with a ''zee'' and the influence they had on Allen's rich international career. Callingham and Burgess do an evocative job on a Garland/Liza Minelli medley, cunningly combining Cabaret's Maybe This Time with A Star is Born's The Man That Got Away and there is even a resurrection of sorts for the Allen Brothers.

Hooper and Midson dance with style, athleticism and precision in what seemed like a tiny space between the spread-out and laidback band, the grand piano and the foldback speakers.

The songs we are all waiting for gradually arrive. I Still Call Australia Home, the ever haunting Tenterfield Saddler and When My Baby Goes to Rio. This last number turns into a real breakout, with inflatable palm trees on stage and the audience happily tossing huge inflatable beach balls around, while McKenney, the singers, the dancers and the hard-working band give it the right gusto.

I could do without the current pop concert convention of blinding the front couple of rows of audience, but the rest of Trudy Dalgleish's lighting is cheerfully appropriate even if most of the band spend the night with purple faces. When the mood darkens for something such as Tenterfield Saddler, so do the lights. When glamour is called for, it arrives along with a mass of sparkling costumes and fairy lights.

There's a welcome generosity in this show to the other performers on stage and the sudden uncredited appearance of nine-year-old Chloe Hope, singing When I Get My Name in Lights from The Boy From Oz with terrific assurance, is quite a moment.

McKenney himself sings, dances and charms his way through an evening that shows that good old-fashioned variety has really never gone away. And he knows how to set up just the right number of encores, leaving the audience wanting more of this sure-footed, slightly waspish performer.