Peter Allen – Australian LGBTQ wunderkind: a singer, an award-winning songwriter, a flamboyant entertainer and oh so beloved, that Hugh Jackman starred in a Broadway musical of his life, The Boy from Oz, which earned Jackman a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
Above Image: Peter Allen Live at Reno Sweeney (CA. 1975)
[New York]: Reno Sweeney, . Vintage original 22 x 15″ poster, unfolded, FINE
Peter Allen was born Peter Richard Woolnough (10 February 1944 – 18 June 1992) in a small country town in New South Wales He began his career when he was eleven, playing piano in a ladies’ lounge. In 1959 he met Chris Bell, an English-born singer-guitarist. Inspired by the Everly Brothers, they formed a singing duo called the Allen Brothers. Within a year they were performing on Australian television.
In 1964, Mark Herron, the husband of Judy Garland, discovered the Allen Brothers while they were performing in Hong Kong. They became Judy Garland’s opening act when she toured. Charmed by Allen, Judy served as matchmaker between him and her daughter, Liza Minnelli, who he married. The Allen Brothers act broke up in the spring of 1970 and Peter Allen, as he was then known, began his solo career.
Allen began releasing solo recordings in 1971, but throughout his career he achieved greater success through his songs being recorded by others. He scored his biggest success with the song “I Honestly Love You“, which he co-wrote with Jeff Barry and which became a major hit in 1974 for Olivia Newton-John. Her single reached number one in the United States and Canada and won two Grammy Awards, for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Allen also co-wrote “Don’t Cry Out Loud” with Carole Bayer Sager, popularized by Melissa Manchester in 1978, and “I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love“, also co-written with Bayer Sager and popularized by Rita Coolidge in 1979. One of his signature songs, “I Go to Rio“, co-written with Adrienne Anderson, was popularized in America by the group Pablo Cruise.
In addition, Allen co-wrote the Patti LaBelle hit “I Don’t Go Shopping”, which reached the top 30 on the R&B chart in 1980.
In 19821, Allen co-wrote the song “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” with Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Christopher Cross, for the film Arthur. The song reached number one in the US and the songwriters won an Academy Award for Best Song. One lyric for the song, “If you get caught between the moon and New York City“, was adapted from an earlier song that he and Bayer Sager co-wrote. Allen and Bayer Sager also co-wrote “You and Me (We Wanted It All)”, recorded by Frank Sinatra.
In 1976, Allen released an album, Taught by Experts, which reached number one in Australia, along with the number one single “I Go to Rio” and the Top 10 hit “The More I See You“. The album also included the song “Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On Stage” that he wrote in honor of Judy Garland and was recorded by many artists including Jack Jones and Dusty Springfield. Allen’s most successful album was Bi-Coastal (1980) featuring the single “Fly Away“, which in 1981 became his only US chart single. His album for Arista was entitled Not the Boy Next Door (1983). In 1990, he recorded his final album on RCA Victor, Making Every Moment Count, which featured Melissa Manchester and Harry Connick Jr. The song “Making Every Moment Count”, a duet with Manchester, was co-written by Seth Swirsky, who also produced a number of songs he co-wrote with Allen, including Allen’s last-released single, “Tonight You Made My Day”.
Peter Allen performed in Atlantic City and at Carnegie Hall. He had three extended sold-out engagements at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, where he became the first male dancer to dance with The Rockettes and rode a camel during “I Go to Rio”. He had a busy and successful cabaret career, including his favorite watering hole, Reno Sweeney.
Allen performed on Australian television for many important occasions; in front of Queen Elizabeth II in 1980 at the Sydney Opera House, before Prince Charles and Princess Diana, once in Melbourne and again in Sydney in 1981, and in 1983 at the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre , where he unveiled his Australian “Flag” shirt, and the 1980 VFL Grand Final in Melbourne. His “Up in One Concert” of 1980 was a big ratings success across the country. When Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983, he flew to Perth to sing before an audience of 100,000. In 1988, he opened for Frank Sinatra at Sanctuary Cove, Queensland. In America, he appeared at the 30th anniversary of Disneyland.
He made his Broadway debut on 12 January 1971, in Soon, a rock opera that opened at the Ritz Theatre and ran for three performances. He starred in his own one-man revue on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre, Up in One: More Than a Concert (1979), which ran for 46 performances.
Allen recorded a live album called Captured Live at Carnegie Hall where songs from his musical Legs Diamond, were previewed. Legs Diamond opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on 26 December 1988, with a book co-written by Harvey Fierstein. The musical ran for 64 performances and 72 previews. After Legs Diamond closed, he returned to concert work, touring with Bernadette Peters during the summer of 1989. Allen and Bernadette also performed in the 1983 Academy Award broadcast in an extended musical tribute to Irving Berlin.
Though flamboyant on stage, Allen was quite the opposite offstage. He once remarked, “I’m not the let’s-tear-his-clothes-off type. I’m fairly quiet. The maniac only comes out when I hit the stage. I have to be a different person offstage. If I were to try to keep that up 24 hours a day, I would have a nervous breakdown.”
Allen married Liza Minnelli on 3 March 1967; they separated in December 1969 and divorced on 24 July 1974.
As a homosexual, Allen became more comfortable with his homosexuality in the early 1970s. He explained, “I was afraid as a teen that if I acknowledged that I preferred my own kind my family would stop loving me. We do tend to underestimate our families.” In 1974, Allen met Gregory Connell through a mutual friend at a New York nightclub and, as a result, helped Allen get his first band together. According to Allen’s biographer, Stephen MacLean, Connell was “Peter’s big love.” Connell, a fashion and print model originally from Texas, attracted major clients such as Coca-Cola and did other lucrative print ads. After they joined forces, Connell gave up his modeling to support Allen’s music career by becoming his lighting and staging director and tour manager. This arrangement enabled them to be together while Allen performed around the world.
Connell died from an AIDS-related illness on 11 September 1984, at their home in Leucadia, California. Allen dedicated his 1985 album, Captured Live at Carnegie Hall to Connell and sang songs in his memory at AIDS benefit concerts. After Connell’s death, Allen poured himself even more into his work. He spent several years getting his musical Legs Diamond on Broadway, recorded his final album Making Every Moment Count in 1990, and continued performing in concerts and doing various benefits.
Allen’s last performance was on 26 January 1992, in Sydney. He spent his final days in Leucadia in the same house where Connell had died eight years earlier. He died at Mercy Hospital, San Diego, on 18 June 1992, from an AIDS-related throat cancer. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered off the coast of California.
A documentary titled The Boy from Oz about Allen was produced after his death, featuring clips from his performances as well as interviews with performers who worked with him.
A stage musical also titled The Boy from Oz, based on his life and using his largely autobiographical songs, opened in Australia in 1998. The musical opened on Broadway, becoming the first Australian musical ever to be performed there. It stared Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen, who, in 2004, won a Tony Award for that portrayal. Jackman performed this role again two years later when the show toured large arenas in Australia under the title The Boy from Oz: Arena Spectacular. A TV miniseries, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door, was broadcast in Australia in 2015. –Wikipedia