Todd McKenney’s breakthrough turn as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz is perhaps one of the most demanding roles in musical theatre – two whole acts of all-singing, all-dancing action, with barely an off-stage break to catch your breath.
In contrast, his appearance as the Teen Angel in the current remounting of classic musical Grease is short and sweet: McKenney graces the stage for little more than four minutes each night.
“You know what, I’m just happy working,” McKenney told the Star Observer of his brief star turn in the show, now playing in Brisbane before upcoming seasons in Sydney and Melbourne.
“I’ve done so many shows where I’ve flogged it, and I’ll have more shows like that in the future I’m sure, so it’s nice to have one that’s a little less pressure. I’m really happy to come on and make a huge splash in a cameo role. [Grease producer] John Frost was a little apologetic when he offered me the part – he said it was a small role but I said, as long as the wage isn’t small I’ll be happy,” he chuckled.
McKenney will certainly make the most of his few minutes on stage – as the fantastical figure of the Teen Angel, he gets to sing one of Grease’s best-loved tunes, the doo-wop pastiche Beauty School Dropout. He follows in the footsteps of big names such as Frankie Avalon, who played the role in the 1978 smash hit film adaptation, Jimmy Osmond, Chubby Checker and Darlene Love.
“Each time they mount a show, they tend to shape the Teen Angel character to the performer they’ve got. In my case they’ve got a dancer, so we’ve upped the dance aspect of it – we’ve even got a cheeky little reference to The Boy From Oz.”
It sounds like McKenney also plans to take the flamboyant Teen Angel to new heights of camp, if his costume is anything to go by.
“I’m in a suit covered with 2000 Swarovski crystals, a white quiff, silver aviators and silver crocodile boots. We’re working out today whether I’ll be flying on stage…”
Wait a minute – has Todd McKenney gone full Liberace?
“Totally! If I fly on stage in a Swarovski crystal suit, I can retire after that. I mean, where do you go from there?”
McKenney joins an exciting all-star cast for the show billed as ‘Australia’s number one party musical’, including musical theatre’s Mr Everywhere Rob Mills as Danny and Wicked star Gretel Scarlett as Sandy. Pocket-sized pop star Anthony Callea, I Will Survive hunk Stephen Mahy, Prisoner star Val Lehman and entertainment veteran Bert Newton take key supporting roles.
McKenney said his own relationship with the musical, first staged in 1971, stretched back to his earliest days in the industry.
“I come from a dance school background, so Grease was part of our staple. It’s such a failsafe – the tunes are incredibly catchy, and audiences just know they’re going to be entertained.”
INFO: Grease is now playing Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre before runs in Sydney (October) and Melbourne (January). Tour dates at greaseistheword.com.au