GREASE is a great movie — but it's crying out to be seen on stage don't you think? "Oh yeah. And it works really well on stage, too. I hadn't seen it on stage before but I call it a cartoon musical. The story's tongue-in-cheek and it sounds to me like all the dialogue is unashamedly driving towards the songs. It is what it is and it works well. And the songs are great."
Who do you play and what do you sing? "I'm Teen Angel, a fantasy character. I sing Beauty Queen Dropout and I'm on stage for 3 minutes 53 seconds in the second act [laughs]. The first time I did it I asked the stage manager to time it! But it's 3 minutes 53 seconds you won't forget 'cos it's really in your face. When John Frost offered it to me he was a bit apologetic. He said 'Look I'm gonna offer you something. It's a small role but we'll do whatever you like with it.' Because I'm a dancer, they beefed up the dance part and John said 'What do ya wanna wear?' I said 'I wanna hit the stage like a human mirror ball!' So I've got this massive white quiff going on [pictured], big silver aviators and this white and gold pinstripe suit with 2500 Swarovski crystals on it. He took me at my word — I'm a human mirror ball! Someone put on my Facebook page I look like Michael Douglas in Behind the Candelabra [laughs]! And I thought yeah, you're absolutely right. I'm a mixture of Peter Allen, Liberace and Mr Whippy. There are references to Dancing with the Stars, The Boy from Oz and they bring the house down!"
Do you appear on stage any other time? "I turn up to the show when it starts and chat to the cast backstage through the first half, I get dressed at interval and I go on and do my 3 minutes 53 then come back for the megamix at the end and basically bow and go home [laughs]! I said to Frosty, I feel like I'm stealing from you each time you pay me! In most of my previous work I was driving the show and at the end of the show I was completely wrecked — but this is the opposite. I bounce out of there ready to do it again. I'm loving it, it's great!"
There are very, very few performers whose work you wouldn't tire of after doing it 766 times. But there's poetry and depth and superb artistry in Peter's work isn't there. "Absolutely. I've sung Tenterfield Saddler, without exaggerating, at least 2500 times. And I never tire of it. Audiences really love it and sing along. The lyrics are beautiful, the melodies are beautiful. And he's a great man. I used to see his shows when he came to Australia and leave thinking God, what a funny man."
I've seen you and I've seen Hugh and give me you any time. You don't have to comment on that but I'd like a comment on this: Sometimes when people constantly offer you sympathy for losing out on a great opportunity it can have the opposite effect. Too much empathy can stop you from moving on. "Oh, yes . . ."
So how did you get over that devastating decision to take The Boy from Oz to Broadway without you? "Excellent question. You're the only one over the last 15 years who's actually put it that way. Yes, I felt really patronised. Everyone was trying to be lovely, everyone was patting me on the back, patting me on the head, and it was extremely patronising and that was the hardest part. Not losing to Hugh. Hugh I like. I clearly understand the producers' decision to put a star in. I get that. It was the patronising. Everyone was being so lovely you couldn't say please don't do that. But that's what I had to do the most work on. I put my shoulders back and my head up and ploughed through but it wasn't losing the job, it was the sympathy thing which got to me. Yeah, that's a very great question. No one's asked me that before. Yeah, I had to do some soul-searching, I had to do some work to get through it. I didn't tell my mum I was feeling like that, I didn't tell my friends. I didn't tell anyone. It was a very personal, lonely time 'cos of that, because everyone was being so nice, you know. And the media really wanted me to hate Hugh and I just couldn't. I got through it. In hindsight I wouldn't have had Dancing with the Stars. I wouldn't have had the career I've had. I wouldn't have had a child. It was great."
In hindsight. "In hindsight it was great. I was also aware of incredible support from the public. That was kind of good to find out, too."
You've moved from judge to judged. Any regrets about how seriously you may have judged others? "No, it's actually made me polish my act. I'm aware I've really got to nail it each time I go on 'cos I'm living in a glass house. So I treat it as a challenge. I always give 100 per cent but I'm very aware people are going 'Yeah, rightio, let's see!' The really funny thing is nearly every show I do someone holds up a scorecard. I've had everything from 1 to 11 [laughs]!"
■ Grease ($64.90 to $149.90): greaseis theword.com.au or 1300 723 038.
Todd Sings Peter Allen: Castle Hill (Nov 15), South Sydney (Nov 29), Belmont (Dec 13). toddmckenney .com.au.