By David Finkle
"Not the Boy Next Door – The Peter Allen Songbook"
The Metropolitan Room - August 25, 27, September 6, 13
By the time Darren Williams reached the "I Go to Rio" encore in his opening-night "Not the Boy Next Door – The Peter Allen Songbook" tribute, he'd already pulled down the zipper on his black shirt so everyone could watch him working his pectoral muscles. Nevertheless, he zipper-lowered again. He'd also done a good deal of hip-swiveling—but not in time to the beat, since he doesn't seem to have an impeccable (no pun intended) sense of rhythm. (Curiously, his pecs keep better time than his hips. Go figure.) He'd also de-energized most of the 21 songs that Allen wrote, co-wrote or, in one instance (a daffy novelty, "Pretty Keen Teen") was associated with.
But nothing preceding "I Go to Rio" got the deflating evisceration he gave to, arguably, Allen's signature song. Look, Allen idolaters may not recall that their boy was also something of an awkward hip-swiveler and arm-thruster. Yet, with him the slightly off-the-beat athleticism didn't matter. What did was the joy, the absolute thrill the Australian export seemed to experience while performing. When Allen went to Rio, it was as if he were flying down to the carnival zone on helium fuel.
Unfortunately, Williams—who has a strong, piercing voice and at times even some of the Allen timbre—is totally devoid of the Allen ebullience. It's as if he doesn't understand it. He seems to assume that singing songs full-throatedly was what made Allen such a masterful entertainer. He seems to think that keeping the body in motion—on the up-tempo numbers, certainly—was what did it for Allen.
Not that anyone would necessarily demand and expect an impersonation—not outside The Boy From Oz, in which Hugh Jackman portrayed Allen and captured the essence with astonishing ease. No, what might be a better approach to Allen at this point would be rethinking the man's songbook—not every page of which is deathless, by the way. None of what might work, however, is what Williams puts on display. It's as if all Allen's effervescence had been bleached out of the material by the scorching outback sun.
Or knocked out of it. Much of that knocking is done by percussionist Bobby Sher, who might just as well be using tree trunks on his drums. But maybe that's what Williams wants so he can time his hip movements to them—or close enough to them. Anyway, what an assailed audience member could bet on and be a winner is that even if a ditty began with subdued tones, it would crescendo into electric storm intensity before coda.
During his trip through "Harbour," the saucily homoerotic "Bi-Coastal," "Don't Cry Out Loud," "I Honestly Love You," the Oscar-winning "Arthur's Theme" (with collaborators Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross), "Once Before I Go" and others familiar and less familiar, Williams perfunctorily recounts the Allen bio. It never occurs to him, though, to talk about the content of the songs. Other than pointing out that "Tenterfield Saddler" is about Allen's grandfather, Williams never wonders how the songs—many of them about deep disillusionment and regret—related to Allen's life and, at 48, death.
Incidentally, Williams is a past winner of the Peter Allen Australian Variety Entertainer of the Year Award. No comment.