John from Tassie leading role in ‘The Boy from Oz’

Australian musical theatre performer John Xintavelonis talks to Neos Kosmos about 'The Boy from Oz', what drew him to musicals, mastering accents and doing the splits onstage

While most people are still on summer holidays, John Xintavelonis is stage ready, all set to continue his performance roles in The Boy from Oz.

Following the musical’s winter sell out season, The Boy from Oz is playing an extended summer season in Melbourne, starting back earlier this month and finishing tomorrow (Sunday, January 16).

It will run for one more week from February 9 until February 13, before going to Sydney for March 2 until March 17.

“It’s gone berserk,” Xintavelonis says. “Considering it’s the third time the show’s been resurrected it’s doing really well”.

Talking to Neos Kosmos, Xintavelonis says The Boy from Oz, which tracks the life story of the dazzling Australian entertainer Peter Allen, from his humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to fame as an international star, is popular for a lot of reasons.

“Once people come and see it it’s a great show, so they’re loving it,” he says, adding “people are blown away by how extraordinary Todd McKenney is in the role. They say Todd is Peter Allen; and he is amazing”.

Audiences have been fascinated by Peter Allen’s life story, Xintavelonis said, adding that most people don’t realise just how many songs the singer recorded in his time, with Allen’s most popular hits including Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage, Everything Old is New Again, Tenterfield Saddler, I Honestly Love You, I Still Call Australia Home, Don’t Cry Out Loud and the show stopping I Go To Rio.

“It’s a great story, which is why it’s so good. And men can enjoy it too, it’s not one of those musicals that only women will enjoy. There’s a lot of really camp humour, it’s very funny, and very entertaining.”

While there’s plenty of quick costume changes in Xintavelonis’ stage schedule he describes his role as easier because it requires little singing and no dancing.

“The ensemble work their guts out because they have to learn 15 routines, and in this particular show it’s all about Peter Allen, so it’s all about Todd and he’s onstage the whole time, for an hour and fifteen minutes in the first act and an hour in the second act. There are moments you walk on stage and you can see the sweat just pouring off him. He must be so fit because it’s full on, dancing, singing, acting the whole time and going through a whole string of emotions”.

Xintavelonis, who wasn’t familiar with the show prior to being cast, plays two roles.

Firstly Dee Anthony; a New Yorker who was Peter Allen’s manager for about 15 years, and secondly Peter Allen’s father Dick Woolnough, who is included in the story through flashbacks to Allen’s childhood.

“After Peter Allen’s father came back from the Second World War he wasn’t all there and basically started drinking and was very depressed,” Xintavelonis explains.

“He’s part of the sad ending but like all good musicals it ends with everyone singing. It closes with the cast singing “I go to Rio” with maracas so we don’t finish on a downer!”.

The Tasmanian born actor, who is best known for his portrayal of Pumbaa in the stage show of The Lion King, says he prefers his dramatic roles in The Boy from Oz.

“Most of my work has been in musical theatre lately, but comedy mainly, so it’s good to play a bit of a dramatic role,” Xintavelonis says. “I have a natural ability to do the comic stuff, which is great, but I think I prefer the dramatic stuff. It’s great fun.”

The 40 year-old stumbled into musical theatre, not beginning until age 24.

Following The Lion King in 2005, Xintavelonis played a comic minor role in the Australian stage version of Billy Elliot, which involved dancing and learning to do the splits, a difficult feat for someone who is not a trained dancer.

“It’s all been experience; I haven’t had any training as a singer either. I suppose I’m lucky I have a bit of a natural voice,” he says.

With eight shows a week, Xintavelonis says the performance schedule is “manic but good”.

“The weekend is full on, we perform five shows from Friday to Sunday, but this is a short run, it’s not like The Lion King, which went for three years,” he says.

“It’s all worth it though because the second you get out there there’s over 2000 people at each show and when you’re in a successful, popular, entertaining show like this one it’s the only job where people stand and clap and cheer at the end of your work day. It’s the best; I wouldn’t be doing anything else. It’s all worth it, it’s worth being tired and spending all day at the theatre”.

Xintavelonis’ fast-paced show tour is mirrored in real life, as he constantly flits between his apartment in Melbourne when he’s working, his home in Hobart, and a rented place in Sydney, where his wife currently works as a psychologist.

“You can guarantee no matter what sort of musical you’re involved in you’ll go to Melbourne or Sydney but there seems to be a lot more happening in Melbourne than Sydney at the moment, it’s pretty quiet in Sydney,” he says.

The actor will go to Sydney to do The Threepenny Opera later this year, a show that played in Melbourne’s Malthouse theatre last year.

Having done plenty of voiceover and corporate work, Xintavelonis says he spent most of his life working in Hobart.

“There’s 480,000 people in the state, I very quickly became a big fish in a small pond, which is good but it was good to get out when I did, just for fear of over-exposure”.

Talking at schools in Tasmania, Xintavelonis says he now encourages students to embrace their local industry.

“I tell schoolkids I didn’t go the mainland until I was 35; it’s never too late. Living in a small town you can get a lot of experience because you’re not competing with as many people. The main reason my agent signed me up, when I was about 28 maybe 30 years old, was experience.”

“My parents, being Greek, weren’t keen on me going to live in Sydney. I was going to an audition for NIDA and my parents said ‘no’. They didn’t want me living as a teenager in Sydney. It’s different now, a lot of young kids get out and about, but at that age I hadn’t been out of the state really.”

From age 17 to 20, Xintavelonis performed in eight amateur shows a year.

“In a small community you get well known very quickly, if you’re any good, so I was very fortunate. That’s why I keep going back (to Tasmania) I made a name for myself there,” he says.

Xintavelonis’ plan this year was to stay away from big musicals and chase up more TV and film work because big shows, with eight performances a week means you’re out of the loop for 8, 12, 16, 18 months, which means you can’t do anything else.

“But it’s not bad,” he concludes. “I’m doing alright for myself, for a fat, balding Greek man from Tasmania who’s just turned 40, I do alright.

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