ArtsReviewTheatre

Front Row Centre Players lead audiences down an entertaining road with The Boy From Oz

Caroline Russell-King offers her Postcard Review of Front Row Centre Players’ latest production, the Canadian premiere of The Boy From Oz.

Show: The Boy From Oz.

Playwright(s): Music and lyrics by Peter Allen; book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright; orchestrations by Michael Gibson.

Production company/theatre: Front Row Centre Players at Beddington Theatre Arts Centre.

Length: Two acts (two hours and 40 minutes, one intermission).

Genre(s): Musical Biography. 

Premise: Based on the life of Peter Allen, we follow a boy from a troubled family in Australia to become a songwriter/performer in New York at the height of the AIDS crisis.

Why this play? Why now?: “This production is an attempt to tackle two mighty things. The first was to honour Peter’s life … the second attempt was to honour those we lost to AIDS.”

Curiosities: “The musical was built out of literal sweat, literal blood and literal tears. It was born out of frustrations, joy, anger, glee and adrenaline.” I wondered if there was more drama in the making of the show than the actual show. Most Calgary audiences stand for community theatre; I was curious why this audience didn’t.

Notable moment: I enjoyed the theatrical nod to Rocket Man and despite the cheesy heaven/angel wings, the post-death song was sincere without being mawkish. 

Notable writing: The book is a somewhat cumbersome attempt to fit the protagonist’s life into his songs and vice versa. According to the director, “his songs were campy, odd tunes.”

Notable performances: Mitchell Lukinuk in the lead role and his backup trio are very entertaining. In the cast of 17 there are some triple threats and some double threats. 

Notable design/production: Jerod Fahlman’s set design of Mylar strips and wheelie furniture is serviceable (although the sign changing isn’t in sync with the story and the party favours seem problematic in subsequent scenes). The costumes are many and ambitious thanks to Christie Johnson.  There were some opening night gremlins with volume levels, feedback and mics cutting out. Ah, the joys of live theatre – no second takes!

Notable direction: Conrad Belau makes some interesting casting choices, some that serve the play, and others which seem to work at cross purposes and add unnecessary layers.

One reason to see this show: Tucked behind the silver curtain is a very fine orchestra (and a lovely on-stage piano player!).

The Boy From Oz runs until Feb. 1 at the Beddington Theatre Arts Centre. For showtimes and tickets go to http://www.frontrowcentre.ca/.

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here at www.carolinerussellking.com.

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