Wild One Brings The House Down

Sydney Morning Herald SHOUT Review

Capitol Theatre
March 7

Part concert, part theatrical event, Shout! is mainly a celebratory tribute to Australia's rock'n'roll trailblazer, Johnny O'Keefe, and an excuse to perform a host of snappy tunes from the '50s and '60s.

The showbusiness biography musical is by no means new territory for local producers and Shout!, like its homegrown predecessor The Boy From Oz, which paid homage to Peter Allen, is based on the life and music of an ordinary man/audacious entertainer who found fame in Australia and abroad.

J.O'K, dubbed "The Wild One", emerges as a conquering, volatile, obsessive and driven performer who shook, rattled and rolled his way into the history books. The heroic pop stature he acquires in act one, which charts his sensational rise and his dependent, reckless association with his American manager/impresario, Lee Gordon, is peeled away after interval. Two domestic scenes, in particular, are sure to test the audience's allegiance to the doomed rocker.

In fleeting moments, Shout! takes introspective pause to present a candid and paradoxical view of O'Keefe's obsessive ambition, his domestic crises, breakdowns and Icarus-like fall. Understandably the rousing production puts the toe-tapping, vibrantly performed songs first, linked by minimal dialogue and skilfully staged by Richard Wherrett and enlivened by Ross Coleman's choreography.

The generous catalogue of tunes, including I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door, Get a Job, Save the Last Dance For Me, The Wild One, She Wears My Ring, She's My Baby, Crazy, Mockingbird and, of course, Shout are what make the musical an obvious crowd-pleaser. It's a nostalgia trip on one level but, given the impressive talents of Trisha Noble, Tamsin Carroll, Aaron Blabey and Doug Scroope, and the disciplined ensemble, it's also an exciting entertainment.

David Campbell pulls out all stops and then some for a powerhouse performance as J.O'K. He seizes the opportunity to belt out the songs and project O'Keefe's stridency as a performer while making palpable the destructive impulses and demons signalling his fall. JO'K died at 43.

In an era when all things American dominated the airwaves and entertainment halls, J.O'K broke through: his forthright personality, and belief in his talent and that of his local peers, struck a chord with Australian audiences. That he was among the first Australian rock artists to gain such exposure and fame is not to be taken lightly and Shout! underscores the point when its final honours roll.

Unlike The Boy From Oz, there are no world famous figures such as Liza Minnelli or Judy Garland gracing the stage, but there's no shortage of local identities being impersonated or interpreted: the lads from the Dee Jays, Col Joye, the Delltones and Kurt Sneddon's towering turn as "Pee Wee" Wilson. Scenes of the Sydney Stadium are splendidly realised by Wherrett, as are the TV shows Six O'Clock Rock and Sing Sing Sing on Michael Scott-Mitchell's expansive set, superbly lit by Trudy Dalgleish. Blabey is excellent as the flamboyant, loud and oily Lee Gordon, while Noble's tough-minded portrayal of the mother and Carroll's loving, increasingly exasperated performance as J.O'K's wife add tremendous grit and spirit to a journey that is upbeat, tender, abrasive and tragic.

By no means a definitive biography, Shout! is well paced but the storyline isn't as insightful or as sharp as it could be in act two. The production attains poignancy and/or dramatic conflict episodically when the music is quelled but, by and large, it's the urgency and drive of rock'n'roll that triumphs in the end. When Campbell relives O'Keefe's glory days for the climactic, feverish version of Shout! he brings the house down, just as the song was intended to do.

The band and the colourfully attired dancers have a ball and, doubtless, audiences will, too.


Reviewed by Bryce Hallett - The Sydney Morning herald, 7 March, 2001.