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Peter Allen - The Boy From Oz

Acorn Media // Unrated // February 7, 2006
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted January 7, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Some Background On Peter Allen-

Writing a review for this DVD seemed like a no-brainer for me. When I was a teen I saw Peter Allen performing in concert via television footage and began following his eclectic and storied musical career from the late 70's until the time of his death. Hailing from Austrailia and starting a performing career at a young age in a local pub, Allen was on one hand a balladeer craftsman- he wrote several notable songs in the 70's that other artists made hits- 'Don't Cry Out Loud', 'I Go To Rio', 'I Honestly Love You', and cowrote the title theme for the movie 'Arthur', which earned him an Ocsar along with co-writers Christopher Cross, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer-Sager. On the other hand he was a campy, flamboyant troubador-type performer who gave rollicking concerts with his combination of incredible piano skills, slightly nasal tenor voice and whirling-dervish dancing stage energy overall. Judy Garland saw him perform in Hong Kong in the mid-sixties and brought his act to London, where he was introduced to and married her daughter Liza Minnelli- they separated in 1969 and divorced several years later. He recorded several decent albums in the 70's and 80's and was managed by Dee Brown, also the manager of arena rock acts such as Peter Frampton and the J. Geils Band.

A wonderful showman with commanding stage presence he played all manner of venues, and recorded and released live performances of shows at The Roxy and Carnegie Hall. Seeming to fly just under the radar of superstardom for many years, in the later period of his life he brought to Broadway the musical "Legs Diamond", which was panned by critics and failed miserably. After that he returned to the concert circuit- openly bisexual in a time in which it was not as socially acceptable, he joked frequently onstage about his sexuality, writing and recording songs about it as well. At 48 years old, his career was still very much on the upswing at the time of his death in 1992 after a short bout with AIDS- related cancer.

Ironically his biggest success has come post-mortem, his life and music becoming the inspiration for Austrailia's most successful musical. "The Boy From Oz" became a runaway success and at the 1998 ARIA awards won an award for Original Cast Recording. In 2003 it opened on Broadway with none other than fellow Australian Hugh Jackman playing the lead role of Allen, winning him a Tony Award in 2004.

The DVD-

Paradoxically, being a fan of Peter Allen and his music from way back I was also apprehensive about this disc; clocking in at only 56 minutes, I knew there wouldn't be nearly enough music here to satisfy me- and while I was right, I'm also happy to say that seen as documentary this disc not a disppointment in the least. From the opening credits we are shown old footage of Allen in various stages of his career interspersed with recent interview snippets by some geat performers, among them Bette Midler, Ann-Margaret, Melissa Manchester, Bernadette Peters and Harry Connick Jr. gushing praise for Allen as both a performer and a person. As the disc progresses we see more and more concert foorage and are given the opportunity to see just how great a performer he was. In an age when rock and roll was king, Peter was something different- a throwback to vaudeville, a cabaret singer, a performer in the truest showman sense of the word. He was someone who performed onstage with the Rockettes, and given the star it was a perfect fit. We are shown some insight into his childhood years in Australia and his father's suicide when Allen was 13; his beginning years in a duo called the Allen Brothers and his time with mother-in-law Judy Garland and wife Liza Minnelli; his years of building a following of fans of all walks, straight, gay, old school and new. He was unabashedly flashy, a stage act as much as a singer, a man who defiantly made no bones about his homosexuality yet was confident that his music and performances would win over any audience, and he was correct.

There are scads of short snippets of various concert performances here, as well as some early music video segments of a few of his more popular songs. We listen to reminiscings by his manager Brown and of his signing with A&M Records, later footage from various TV spots after Allen became a star, home movie material, some short "Legs Diamond" related musings and clips of what appear to be his final performances in a time he appears unwell, looking haggard and drawn but getting the feeling that this man was truly a member of 'the show must go on' faction. While the documentary touches on his very last months dying with AIDS, we aren't drawn into feeling a sense of mourning, rather a celebration of having had many years having had such a super talent in our wake. Multitalented- a wonderful stage performer in the most theatrical sense as well as writer of many finely crafted ballads and love songs, his persona is well represented here.


Here is the one area where this disc is sorely lacking. Presented in 1:33:1 format, the footage here seems to be of every type ranging from passable to awful. The more recent interview clips with various stars look great, but a good deal of the actual Allen performance footage is pretty bad. Most of this DVD is comprised of archival 60's and 70's footage from different TV stations, an old commercial or two, and live concert footage probably not filmed in anticipation of anything more than to be used as promotional material. Producer Gannon touches on this in his interview, stating that the footage came from all manner of sources both in Austrailia and the US. It's a documentary and visually much of the material should forgivingly be seen as such.


Audio here seems to be English Dolby Surround 2.0 and is much better than the video. While not rich or spacious, the sound is clear and clean. Given the nature of the footage it's sufficient for what it is.


Extras here are an interview with Ben Gannon, co-creator of "The Boy From Oz" musical, and a discography. That's it.

Final Thoughts:

Presumably this DVD was released to capitalize on the success of the musical it is named after. I'm not sure how well it works on that level, but as simply an insightful biography on Allen it does a great job. In conclusion I am happy to say that if you are even a casual Peter Allen fan, you need to own this disc. While I would love to see the eventual release of a concert from either his late 70's period or more Vegas-style 80's stage performance shows, for the time being this is all we have. There simply isn't anything else out there of note (that I'm aware of) regarding the career of Allen that approaches it. Recommended.
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