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Todd McKenney – the new Teen Angel

October 16, 2013

Latest news, Theatre

Juggling TV, radio and theatre

All in a day’s work for Todd

By SHIRLEY BROUN

A DAY in the life of multi-award winning all-round entertainer and now Teen Angel Todd McKenney is far from boring and just as well because he hates being bored.

Todd McKenney plays Teen Angel in the latest million dollar production of Grease which opened in Sydney on Sunday.

“I’m terrible when I’m bored. I’ve always got to be working on something and that’s why I get involved in so many things,” said Todd, who was franticly shuffling a list of appointments he had scheduled on his return from filming Dancing with the Stars in Melbourne.

To make things worse, the plane was running late further delaying his arrival back in Sydney. But cool-headed Todd wasn’t fazed. He gave everyone a quick call to advise he would be running a few minutes late and got on with the rest of his day.

Todd, 48, doesn’t ever see himself slowing down. “I’ve had six months off since 1993 where I didn’t have any job in the wind but the rest of the time I’ve been so lucky and all of my work has been here in Australia I haven’t needed or wanted to go overseas for work,” he said.

Dancing with the Stars

As the sometimes cutting and controversial judge on Dancing with the Stars for the past nine years Todd has established a dedicated following by millions of viewers around the country. Love or hate him people tune in to hear his comments on their favourite personality’s triumphs or disasters on the dance floor.

“I try to call a spade a spade. If there is an elephant in the room then I will talk about it. But I don’t just try to bag people. I try to call it as I see it and pepper it with a bit of hope. In a way I try to be the voice of the people at home … what they might be saying about each performance,” explained Todd.

There is no doubting that Todd has the credentials to offer some advice to newcomers to dance. He has represented Australia in ballroom and Latin American dancing, winning many international dancing titles and has trained in jazz, tap, acrobatics and ballroom dancing.

Screen and stage

On the big screen he played the role of Nathan Starkey in Baz Luhrmann’s internationally acclaimed film `Strictly Ballroom’ and wowed audiences with his many musical theatre roles including 42nd Street, The Pirates of  Penzance, Strictly Ballroom, La Cage aux Folles, Singin’in the Rain and Priscilla Queen of the Desert – the Musical.

In 2011 he portrayed Lord Evelyn Oakley in the limited showing of Anything Goes in Melbourne and the following year played `Rooster’ in the hit musical Annie alongside Anthony Warlow, Nancye Hayes and Alan Jones.

Todd, who has also co-hosted Channel 7’s The Morning Show with Kylie Gillies, says he has the best of both worlds. “It works out great because I can step in and out of the TV world and still be available to do a tour like the one I’m doing now in the Australian production of Grease. We finished the season in Brisbane last week and opened in Sydney on Sunday. In the meantime, I’ve been down to Melbourne for Dancing with the Stars. Being versatile is fabulous. It’s a great life!”

Teen Angel in Grease

Todd plays `Teen Angel’ in the multi-million dollar production. “When I was offered the role I had never seen the stage show, only the movie. I was too old to play Danny but the role of Teen Angel was ideal. It’s a small role and for once in my life I don’t have to get physically wrecked by being on stage for the entire show. I even get to go home on time … it’s heavenly,” said Todd.

When Todd looks back on his career so far he credits playing Peter Allen in the Boy from Oz as the ultimate experience that changed his life. “I have been around Peter Allen’s music since 1977 when my Mum took me to see his concert. I saw all his live shows when he came to Australia and really studied him, his story, the songs he wrote and how he performed,” he said.

“And I had a real connection with his family at Bondi too. We used to walk our dogs together,” said Todd.

Boy From Oz changed his life

“Knowing his material put me in good stead for the show and it changed my life. It taught me to sing and how to communicate with an audience. Peter always made a direct bee line for the crowd and it set him apart in his live shows. He was the ultimate showman and he taught me my craft. He was being really honest on stage … people want you to be real and not fake. And, when you are honest people feel like they know you.”

Todd said like Peter Allen taught him theatre, Dancing with the Stars taught him television and what you can and can’t get away with. “The other great thing is that when I am working in Melbourne I get to spend time with my six-year-old daughter Charlotte who lives with her mother Anne. She is just so special. I love her to bits,” said her proud Dad.

Dream run

Does Todd McKenney have a dream? “I want to keep doing exactly what I am doing,” said Todd. “When Boy from Oz happened that was my dream … I virtually had to reset them all over again and that’s how the TV thing happened. I was well established in theatre but wanted to keep growing.”

Todd was never tempted to seek fame and fortunate overseas. “I am fiercely Australian. I love this country and the lifestyle. Why would I want to go anywhere else when I have everything I want here?”

But there are a couple of things this captivating performer and lovable larrikin would like to do. “I’d like to do more straight plays. I’ve only done one so far which was Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks with Nancye Hayes. It was great to have the focus on my acting for a change and I have a real bug to explore it more.

“I also love to play characters far removed from myself so performing a one-man play is something I’d love to look at too,” said Todd.

Take every opportunity to perform

Asked if he has any advice for newcomers seeking a career in show business Todd was quick to reply: “I have had a charmed experience in theatre because I always say `yes’ before I say `no’,” he said. “I have never priced myself out of the market. I would rather work and do a show in a shopping centre than do nothing and stay home.”

He said performers should experience as much as they possibly could and take every opportunity to perform.  “You just never know who will see you,” he said. “I did a job at Darling Harbour once and ran into the producers for the Boy From Oz …. And the rest is history. People still talk about my role in that show today!”

As for finding time to relax … Well, believe it or not, it is first thing in the morning before many of us have even devoured our first cup of coffee. “I have ex-racing greyhounds and no matter what is planned for the day, I take them out every morning. That’s when I really chill out and relax. I call it my `Todd time’.”

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