Loud and proud
Boy from Oz … cabaret artist Todd McKenney. Photo: Marco Del Grande
"I am so much more than that loud-mouth on Dancing with the Stars!'' jokes Todd McKenney, surrounded by inflatable palm trees. ''I can sing a bit and dance a bit.'' Not to mention the best jazz hands in the business. ''Oh yes! I have great jazz hands! Yes, I do.''
McKenney is in a jovial mood as he readies himself for his new show, Songs & Stories of Peter Allen, at the State Theatre. Bedazzled shirt? Check. Inflatable palm trees? Check. Giant beach balls? Naturally. ''God, I love them,'' McKenney says.
I'd be lynched if I didn't do I Still Call Australia Home.
''The audience loves bouncing them around.''
McKenney has been playing Peter Allen on and off for the past 15 years in the blockbuster musical The Boy from Oz. But in this largely unscripted cabaret show, he is playing himself rather than portraying Allen, offering up small stories of the legendary performer's life in between his lesser-known songs and all the smash hits.
''I'd be lynched if I didn't do I Still Call Australia Home, Tenterfield Saddler and I Go to Rio,'' he says with a shrug. ''Tenterfield Saddler is the song I get asked for the most. But I also look back at the musicians who influenced Peter Allen as a child and as a young man.''
McKenney and his seven-piece band, with three backing singers and two dancers from Dancing with the Stars, will perform a jitterbugging Fats Waller number (from the first album Allen bought) and Allen's little-known Dixie, a tribute to Al Jolson, his mother's favourite movie star.
McKenney's backing singers will also perform Judy Garland's The Man That Got Away and Liza Minnelli's Maybe This Time from the musical Cabaret. There will also be a special pre-show event, ''Up Close and Personal'', a screening of the Peter Allen documentary The Boy from Oz special edition with McKenney on stage talking about Allen's life and career.
''Peter Allen has been an influence on my life for 15 years now,'' McKenney says. ''He has taught me my craft. I feel like I really get him. I get his songs. He didn't have the biggest voice in the world and I don't have the biggest voice in the world. He wasn't the best dancer in the world and I'm not the best dancer in the world. But I understand his material. They are beautiful lyrics to sing.''
For a supposedly second-rate dancer and singer, McKenney has had a big year, playing hardened criminal Rooster Hannigan in Annie the Musical throughout the country, as well as sitting in prickly judgment in Dancing with the Stars.
Next year, he stars in his first opera, Orpheus in the Underworld, for Opera Australia opening in February. He plays the devil.
''I'll wear a codpiece and have muscles built into my costume with six-inch stiletto boots and a whip!'' he says, laughing.
''I have no idea why they asked me to do it. It is scaring the pants off me. But just so long as I can rehearse in that get-up, I think I'll be OK. I'm sure I have boots like that at home already.''
Todd McKenney: Songs & Stories of Peter Allen plays at the State Theatre on November 23. Tickets $75-$150, bookings ticketmaster.com.au, 136 100.