Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

On a rainy Sydney morning Todd McKenney chats away amiably whilst walking his two beloved greyhounds. Every now and then he issues forth a "so sorry" as he goes to the rescue of a dog his has taken a liking to, but then he is back and falls into easy chat about his career highlights and his year so far.

Despite being known as the more controversial judge on Dancing with the Stars, McKenney is, without a doubt, one of Australia’s best loved entertainers. He made a name for himself in the late 90s singing Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. This was the trigger for his now well known appearances as a judge on Dancing with the Stars; he has gone on to host breakfast radio, TV and continues to perform on the stage.

McKenney’s dancing roots have secured him a love of the theatre that sees him this year singing everything from opera to musical theatre. He has just finished his debut season with Opera Australia playing Pluto in Orpheus in the Underworld. McKenney says that walking into the rehearsal rooms at Opera Australia was nerve-wracking;   in a self effacing manner he laughingly describes himself as a “hack singer”.  He admits to feeling intimidated by the voices of men and women, many of whom trained for years to develop their technique. In the midst of such talent McKenney took his vocal training seriously meeting daily with conductor Andrew Greene.

It had been a long time since McKenney had walked into a rehearsal room knowing no one, but he enjoyed every minute of his time with Opera Australia and would do it again in a heartbeat. Audiences loved the performances with many standing ovations. In a nod to Terracini, Artistic Director of Opera Australia, the combination of musical theatre and opera continues his plan to bring opera to the masses. For McKenney it was an opportunity to get right out of his comfort zone and one he relished.

From Orpheus in the Underworld McKenney is about to jump back in where it all started, with Peter Allen. His NSW based tour, Todd McKenney sings Peter Allen, will see him and his five piece band tour form Dee Why to Cambelltown. With 250 songs to choose from McKenney says the challenge is working out what to leave out. The show has been put together by McKenney and features not only Peter Allen but also many of his influences including Judy Garland, Little Richard and Liza Minnelli. “This is not me impersonating Peter Allen, but me being Todd McKenney. I chat with the audience, many of whom know me from Dancing with the Stars and throw in a few snippets of gossip from behind the scenes of Dancing with the Stars, which they love.”

Following hot on the heels of Todd McKenney sings Peter Allen is Grease. Tickets are released today. McKenney plays Teen Angel singing the effusive Beauty School Dropout. He laughs off the suggestion of it being the perfect role for him. He does agree that the family musical is currently enjoying resurgence in Sydney this year with The Addams Family, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and War Horse all playing. “The family musical can bring a family together without the barrier of technology. Families are going back to basics and the theatre is a place they can all enjoy the entertainment while spending time together.’

McKenney’s year is a busy one. Does he miss TV and radio? He says he misses the immediacy of radio. TV is likely to beckon once more with the popular Dancing with the Stars. McKenney is just delighted to be working and it seems he has an insurmountable amount of energy to continue his passion for theatre and entertainment

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