PETER Allen changed Todd McKenney’s life.
Since 1998 when McKenney first landed the lead role of Allen in the stage show The Boy From Oz, McKenney has regularly toured the country with tribute shows paying homage to Allen’s music.
“He’s an anchor,” McKenney said of Allen.
“Peter Allen’s maracas are something I can pick up and put down. I can go and do a musical and come back, so I’m never jaded by it.
“I’ve had a weird affiliation with him my whole life. In 1977 I saw him at the Perth concert hall – my mum got free tickets. We didn’t know who he was.”
That show left him amazed and wondering “what it would feel like to stand in front of a band and sing”.
When McKenney moved to Bondi in 1983 to start his career in musical theatre, he became friends with Allen’s sister Lynne Smith after their dogs began playing together.
“We became very good friends and she took me to (Peter’s) shows at the Hilton,” McKenney said.
McKenney finally met his hero at a random barbecue in Bondi, where Allen invited the awestruck McKenney to one of his shows.
Then in 1992 when Allen passed away, Allen’s mother gave McKenney three of Allen’s sequined shirts – one of which McKenney wore at his successful The Boy From Oz audition.
These are the kind of stories McKenney is more than happy to share during his current tour, which features McKenney and a trio of musicians running through the hits and deep cuts of Allen’s back catalogue.
“I open the floor up for questions, and I get questions about the musicals I’ve done, about Peter Allen, and lots of questions about Dancing With The Stars,” he said, adding that people always want him to “dish the dirt” on the show he has been the “mean judge” on for more than a decade.
“I think my crowd is half Peter Allen fans, half Dancing With The Stars fans.”
Over the many years of paying tribute to Allen the show has evolved – in between the likes I Still Call Australia Home and I Go To Rio, the band slips in a song by Allen’s friend Bette Midler, as well as tracks representative of McKenney’s TV and musical theatre career.
“I sing the song Pauline Hanson danced to on Dancing With The Stars and a song from the latest production of Grease that I was in,” he said.
“But we change the set every night and throw in different songs. It keeps us interested.
“So if the audience wants to hear a song, they can ask for it. We never do the same show twice.
“That’s the luxury of having a small band – it’s very malleable. If (the crowd’s) laidback we get a bit more croony, and if it’s a high vibe crowd we keep it up.”
McKenney pays tribute to Allen at Warrnambool’s Lighthouse Theatre on Friday night.