Taming the Wild One


Capitol Theatre.
Rating: 7/10. Terrific voice . . . David Campbell belts out another JO'K classic.

This celebration of Australia's rock'n'roll king mixes nostalgia with its own distinct take on the 1950s music scene.

There are, inevitably, two approaches to the rock'n'roll musical. The first, the nostalgic option, would embrace all those 1950S cliches: you know, the crazy-kids-go-wild-at-the-sock-hop sort of stuff.

The second route, with kudos for originality but trickier to pull off, would put an outlandish and revivifying spin on an era in music which, if you're not sporting a greasy quiff and a pair of Levi 501s, is as dead as Elvis.

Shout! The Legend Of The Wild One - which takes as its subject the life and times of Johnny O'Keefe, Australia's primal rock'n'roller - tries a little of both. Actually it tries a lot of both: running at about three hours, Shout! could painlessly strip out 30 minutes of filler.

This generosity - or, if you're not bopping along, excess - is the mark of a show that desperately wants to be loved, particularly for the fact that it's Australian.

"We Australians are just as good as anyone else and I'm gonna be the best," O'Keefe (David Campbell) crows, one of several clanging lines from writers John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow. Interestingly, all the cliches are stacked in the first act, with the greater part of what I enjoyed most about Shout!, the weird bits, coming in the second.

It's as if the authors, rereading what they'd written up to the interval, decided it was time to pull the collective finger out and include a few surprises.

So the routine first half has a radio DJ for a narrator, a shifty, pill-popping concert promoter, sex by the light of a car dashboard and the obligatory recruiting-the-band scene (marvellously done to, of course, Get A Job).

The first-act climax is the Sydney Stadium debut of Johnny and the Dee Jays and a knock-your-socks-off rendition of What'd I Say. It's a climax, mind you, that comes well before the end of the first act.

The second act is the devil's half of the Faustian rock'n'roll bargain: the car smash, the mental crack-up and descent into the hell that is the Channel 7 variety show.

O'Keefe serenades his pregnant wife from a hospital bed, hallucinates that he is Jesus Christ and has a psychedelic duet with his manager: all bizarrely brilliant.

From there Shout! slips back into more dreary domestic detail - O'Keefe loved his mum and dad apparently - before a powerhouse performance of the title number which, resorting to my own cliches, brought the house down on opening night.

Campbell, fittingly, has a touch of the wild-eyed madman about him and a terrific voice (much better than O'Keefe's, ironically). Richard Wherrett, a dab hand at this sort of thing, directs.

Tickets $39.90-$74.90. Bookings 136 166.

The Sun-Herald By Colin Rose, 11 March, 2001.