Moving The Boy from Oz from Australia to Broadway was always going to be difficult. I remember when the show opened in Melbourne in May 1999 that the word was out about taking The Boy from Oz to Broadway. The opening night in Melbourne was filled with an ‘A’ list crowd that danced out of the theatre to the strains of I Go To Rio still lingering in their heads and the fond memories of ‘our Peter’. It’s true that this was a terrific new Australian musical in the style of a real ‘Broadway tuner’. The sets, the costumes, the lighting and the first class direction by Gale Edwards all said ‘Broadway’. The cast was filled with the best Australian musical theatre talent: Jill Perryman, Robyn Arthur, Chrissie Amphlett, Angela Toohey and a star-making performance from Todd McKenney that was every bit as revealing of a major talent as Hugh Jackman’s performance on Broadway.

Unfortunately, this was never enough to warrant a transfer from the Australian stage to the Broadway stage. I have studied Broadway for most of my life from as close as a subway ride from The Bronx for the first half of my life to a plane ride from Melbourne, Australia for almost 25 years. One fact that hasn’t changed in all of this time is that credentials alone do not make a Broadway hit. Some of the biggest flops on Broadway have had the most experienced collaborations of producer, director, composer, lyricist, author, designers of sets, costumes and lighting and cast.

As a child I was inspired by the shows of the ‘golden age’ of the Broadway musical. Shows like Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me, Kate, Carousel, Oklahoma and My Fair Lady. Little did I realise how expertly constructed each of these shows was. By the time I saw my first Broadway show, My Fair Lady, I knew the score and the story inside – out thanks to the Original Cast Recording. Here was a smash hit that through all the difficulties of creation always had the potential to grab the attention of its audience due to its subject matter and source material. The story contained a mixture of reality and fantasy in just the right proportions.

What does The Boy From Oz offer the Broadway audience of 2003? The life of Peter Allen may have appeal to Australian audiences but was there ever enough substance there to interest the American critics and a New York audience? The original Australian production was never going to satisfy a Broadway audience and a major rewrite of Nick Enright’s script was going to be essential. Unfortunately, the Broadway version is more than a rewrite, it is a totally new book by Martin Sherman, an ex-pat from America living in London. (I should state at this point that I have not seen the Broadway version of The Boy from Oz and am basing the following conclusion on the consistent comments and reviews from more than 6 theatre critic reviews.) It seems that Mr. Sherman has been instructed to make the most of the Judy Garland – Liza Minnelli connection in Peter Allen’s life. Big mistake. Rule number one is never try to compete with Judy Garland. Rule number two, Liza Minnelli imitations are not worth paying $100 a ticket to see, no matter how good they are. At least Nick Enright’s script had a home grown Australian flavour to it. Once that was tossed out all you have left is Hugh Jackman singing Peter Allen songs. The Hugh Jackman show has received unanimous raves. In hindsight Ben Gannon and Robert Fox might have been better off producing The Peter Allen Songbook On Broadway Starring Hugh Jackman rather than The Boy From Oz. Audiences and critics would have had a different expectation of what they were coming to see and review. Chances are the review content would have been positive and Hugh would have had a meal ticket on Broadway for as long as his stamina held out.

From the moment I saw The Boy from Oz on 21 May 1999 at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne I have wanted to share these suggestions with Mr. Gannon and Mr. Fox. So the comments below are not said in hindsight but were created with foresight for the possible success of The Boy from Oz. Here are some alternatives that could have helped make The Boy from Oz an international success.

Timing is everything in showbiz, and The Boy from Oz had everything going for it when it what was put into production in 1999. The Boy from Oz played a successful season in Sydney before opening at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. Word of mouth was good for the show and audiences received it warmly. If producers Gannon and Fox had their eyes set on Broadway, why not take The Boy From Oz back to Sydney in time for the 2000 Olympics. Here was a golden opportunity to market an original Australian ‘Broadway’ show to a ready-made international audience. What better international publicity for a show ‘destined for Broadway’! The worst case scenario would have been record ticket sales in Australia for an original Australian musical that would or would not receive the international acclaim necessary to take it to Broadway. This would have provided the producers with more insightful information in order to fix the project or scrap the idea of heading for ‘the great white way’.

I do not know the reasons why Gannon and Fox did not capitalise on the 2000 Sydney Olympics in promoting The Boy from Oz. However, the move to Broadway for The Boy from Oz provided an opportunity to market the Australian experience on Broadway. Peter Allen’s dreams of ‘making it’ on Broadway were put to bed with his disastrous musical of 1988 Legs Diamond. So why risk rekindling the memory of that failure? What Hugh Jackman’s performance every night at the Imperial Theatre does is pay tribute to a talented Australian that helped pave the road to international success for Hugh Jackman and other Australian musical theatre performers. Portraying Peter Allen, Jackman has managed to achieve the dreams of success, fame and fortune on Broadway that Peter Allen always wanted, but never quite achieved. The Boy from Oz should pay tribute to Peter Allen’s Australian origins not his relationship with Garland and Minnelli. Peter Allen was a talent in his own right. He was an Australian original! New Yorkers and out-of-town tourists should be flocking to the Imperial Theatre for a totally Australian experience, not just another Broadway show.

‘See you at the theatre’
Henry Sachwald

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