Cast Of “The Boy From Oz” Dazzles As Stages-St. Louis Opens New Season

boyPeter Allen wrote a few hit songs in his time- mostly in collaboration but he’s best know for marrying Liza Minnelli. That being said, Stages-St. Louis opens their 2019 season with “The Boy From Oz,” a show that features Mr. Allen’s life by using his songs to tell his story. With a talented cast and a flashy theatrical oomph that even Peter Allen would have appreciated, the show succeeds and is probably more enjoyable than watching one of his old night club acts.

The reason behind this success is the brilliant performance of David Elder as Peter Allen. With a charm and stage presence that just doesn’t quit, he razzle-dazzles his way through this sometimes sprightly, sometimes angst-laden score. Mr. Allen’s most successful song was the theme from “Arthur,” “Best That You Can Do,” also known as “Caught Between The Moon And New York City.” This was in collaboration with Christopher Cross, Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager.

In the show we go all the way back to a little town in Australia where young Peter is dancing for a handout in the local establishments. A delightful Ben Iken played the role the night we saw the show and offered a lot of verve and talent. Later Peter’s life took a dramatic change when he boldly chatted with Judy Garland in a night club in Hong Kong.  They hit it off and he and his singing/dancing partner Chris (a great performance by Erik Keiser) get the opening gig for Judy’s next tour.

Michele Ragusa is a wonderful Judy Garland as she captures the essence of the brilliant star. Her songs, especially “Don’t Wish Too Hard,” truly convince you that Judy is singing. Then there’s Liza, played with all the mixture of timidity and flashes of flair that was a signature for Liza. Caitlyn Caughell works the magic and becomes the driving force in Peter’s life that guides his career for almost a decade. Their touching duet, “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love,” comes near the close of the first act.

The second act is Peter’s life after he comes out and hooks up with Greg- a wonderful performance from Zach Trimmer. He grounds Peter every bit as much as Liza had and becomes his set and lighting designer and guides his career in a stirring rebirth. Highlighted by a stint with the Rockets at Radio City Music Hall, we hear the great number that became a highlight of the Bob Fosse biopic, “All That Jazz,” “Everything Old Is New Again.” But, as is always the case with Peter, Greg leaves his as well with one of Mr. Allen’s better efforts, “I Honestly Love You.”

When Greg dies of AIDS, Peter returns home to Australia and is greeted by his long suffering and always supportive mother, Marion played by the impressive Corinne Melancon. She has several numbers in the first act but it’s her second act belting of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” that really hits home for both mother and son. Also leading the way with always impressive acting chops is Steve Isom in the dual role of Peter’s abusive father and his agent, Dee Anthony.

To end the dazzling evening of song, costumes (by Brad Musgrove), stunning sets (James Wolk), lights (Sean M. Savoie), musical direction (Lisa Campbell Albert) and inspired choreography of Dana Lewis and the steady hand at the helm of Michael Hamilton, we send an early, heavenly remembrance of Peter Allen in a Busby Berkley style number of his hit, “I Go To Rio.” He died at age 48 of AIDS but left a legacy of work that may not have measured up to some of his musical peers, but certainly made an impact on the world of pop music.

This is a show that you will love just for the sheer joy of spectacle. He led a unique life and made the most of his opportunities. This cast does yeoman work in bringing that life to stage in “The Boy From Oz.” It plays at Stages through June 30th. Contact them at 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

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