'THE BOY FROM OZ' ENTERTAINS WITH PERILS OF ARTISTIC AMBITION
by Lucy Komisar
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
NEW YORK -- Forget about the "Oz" you know as a fairy-tale fantasy land. This one is another kind of fantasyland. The location moves from Australia to America, but the real location could be anywhere. It takes place in the ambitious artistic soul. The story tells how overriding ambition can take over the soul and destroy all in its wake. Or, more generously, about the unyielding dedication of artists.
I never saw Peter Allen, about whom the play is made, but Hugh Jackman who portrays him is a consummate artist, a charmer, a showstopper, so here's where art seems to excuse the pecadillos of life.
The charming boy singer -- there's an engaging bit by the young Peter (Mitchel David Federan) at an Aussie saloon -- had a protective mother and an alcoholic father, and got out of the outback as soon as he could.
The problem with artists is that their egos demand audiences, not other artists. Liza Minnelli had to deal with the added neurosis provoked by an overwhelming Judy Garland.
Allen (Jackman) fell into a family stalked by tragedy, so it's eerily unsurprising that this bisexual man saw his main chance in connecting with Garland (Isabel Keating) by marrying her daughter (Stephanie Block). They never really had a chance. Liza and Allen were both fixed on their own career successes, and then he turned out to be bisexual. Poor Liza: "If it wasn't for sex, we'd have been so happy."
Though the story gets a bit melodramatic, well, hokey even, and it never makes me overcome my basic disinterest in the career paths of pop singers, Philip McKinley's staging is deft and entertaining. There's a witty satire of bandstand singers, smart sets by Robin Wagner, including tunnels that turn into a New York skyline, and all the voices are smashing. Jackman is sensual and riveting. Keating is stunning as Garland, and Block could be a double for Liza Minnelli.
Lucy Komisar welcomes your comments. Please send them to mailto:lkomisar(at)echonyc.com.