HE was just a four-year-old with a dream of becoming Australia’s best dancer when he made his stage debut in Perth, but things went horribly wrong for the youngster during his premiere performance.
As a result of nerves, the kindergartner wet his pants, turning his light-coloured lime knickerbockers into a darker hue of green as a horrified crowd looked on.
“I got so nervous, the whole crowd were staring at me… but it brought the house down and I was very aware of that, so I’ve been trying to fit it into every show since,” he tells Star Observer.
McKenney is full of anecdotes of performances gone wrong – including losing his false teeth on the dancefloor during a ball- room dancing competition and having to scour the ground for them at the tender age of 12.
And he uses many of those anecdotes in his upcoming one-man show What a Life!
Always destined to be a performer – his mum ran a dance school in Perth – the 50-year-old shot to fame in the title role of the stage production The Boy from Oz, where he played legendary Aussie performer Peter Allen in more than 900 performances.
What a Life! showcases the highlights of his 30-year career, musical influences – featuring a moving Prince tribute – and hilarious stories. McKenney will take the show around Australia and guarantees his audience are in for a fun ride.
“When my shows work for me, it’s when the chat works. It goes back to being really honest on stage and telling people these embarrassing stories, it’s stuff they’ll never read about in the paper (until you print it), because I never really talk about it,” he explains.
“That’s what the whole point of this show is, to give them a little bit of background, that I just didn’t get born into Peter Allen’s sequin shirts and I have a history.”
McKenney has a stellar career with credits such as being the “colourful” judge on Dancing with the Stars, co-hosting a commercial radio show with Sonia Kruger and occasionally co-hosting Channel 7’s Morning Show. The triple threat’s musical theatre resume is extensive with McKenney appearing in shows ranging from Singing in the Rain to Annie the Musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom.
He credits timing, luck and a willingness to do any role for his success in a notoriously fickle industry.
“I just said ‘yes’ to everything. I’ve done everything from playing Ronald McDonald to Fat Cat to putting on a costume as a geometric shape at a Mazda conference greeting people coming in the door to Boy From Oz to television,” he remembers.
“I’ve just said yes, because you never know where the doors are going to open from.”
As an openly gay man, McKenney has been proud to perform at huge sporting events across Australia.
“Those big kind of Australian moments, I would never have pictured myself performing in,” he explains.
“Singing the national anthem at the Melbourne Cup, singing I Still Call Australia Home at the AFL grand final, standing in front of the Indy Cars singing the national anthem as they’re revving up and as F1-11s go flying over my head.
“I think it’s (LGBTI visibility) just getting stronger and stronger and stronger with support across the board. I look into my audience and they’re absolute general public, middle Australia and it says a lot that Australians really don’t care, as long as people are confident and comfortable.
“I love watching the gay and lesbian and transgender, the whole lot of us, we’re gathering some sort of strength and momentum and I feel very proud of that.”
A recent role McKenney has taken on, is one he wished he had done earlier, and that’s the role of dad to his eight-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who lives in Melbourne with her mother, Anne, with whom he shares parenting responsibilities.
“What I didn’t ever really think about was the ability to shape a life and shape the way somebody thinks and they way they interact with people. And the way they need to learn about compassion and sharing and caring,” McKenney says.
“Watching her personality development and other weird things knock me for a six. I stand a certain way, I stand with one hand forwards and one hand backwards on my hips when I relax. I see her do the exact same thing and that’s genetics, you can’t teach that and that always blows me away.”
McKenney’s advice for other rainbow families is before agreeing to start a family is to cover off on any questions you may have.
“Even who has the final decision about a haircut or vegan diet,” he advises.
“Just answer every single question you could possibly think of, before you go into it and if it stuffs up down the track, then you can say ‘back in the day, I answered every single question’.
“Having said that, it’s the best thing, go for it, just do it, it’s the best thing. It is absolutely amazing.”
What a Life! Hits NSW and Victoria in July and December. Visit McKenney’s website for all the dates.