JO'K Tribute Something to Shout About

RARELY in Australia or anywhere else for that matter can there have been a first-night response to equal that for the musical Shout!
(Capitol Theatre). From where I sat, high in the dress circle, every one of the 2000 audience seemed to be on his or her feet clapping, cheering and yes, shouting. It was a remarkable reaction but one richly deserved for all associated with this chronicle of Johnny O'Keefe, "the wild one".

Only those very close to him would know whether this is a totally accurate representation of the man's troubled life but it presents itself as a sincere attempt to chronicle the good, the bad, and the tragic. It is not a pretty chronology and this production doesn't totally sanitise it. The first act closes with the fearful Kempsey car crash when O'Keefe was still only in his early 20s and the entire second act revolves around
his convalesence, continued drug-taking, comeback attempts, mental problems, split with entrepreneur Lee Gordon, eventual wrenching marriage breakup and, finally, descent to the showground circuit, playing umpteen times a day with his own tape player providing the backup music.

The entertainer's death of a heart attack in 1978, aged only 43, was felt by a whole nation of first-generation TV viewers. Apart from his full-on rock 'n' roll performances, O'Keefe was the first Australian (via a reluctant Gordon) to break the cringe barrier of using only imported "talent" at the top of the bill (it took another decade for Jill Perryman to do likewise in stage musicals in Funny Girl).

If the storyline is not exactly the stuff of musicals, the songs certainly are, and this production (direction by Richard Wherrett) for the most part sublimates the sadness in the cause of celebration. Vocally it is stronger across the board than any Australian musical in memory and the choreography (by Ross Coleman) is tremendously vibrant and energetic, yet totally disciplined. The dance ensemble of 18 could strut any world stage with high distinction.

The Capitol's vast space is tailormade for Michael Scott-Mitchell's minimal but expansive set. It is Trudy Dalgleish's lighting that complements the costumes in creating extraordinary colour, urgency and excitement. Nothing already said is intended to diminish the contribution of David Campbell, who has rightly earned accolades for what is a truly dynamic performance. His vocal capacity is
well known, both here and internationally. But what he brings to Shout! and the lead character is especially impressive not just as the dynamic stage performer, but later as the man on the tragic slippery slide of life. When the tumult dies and quieter analysis prevails, it should
also be Campbell the actor who is singled out for special praise. His sensitive interpretation of the darker aspects of the rocker's abbreviated life is a tribute both to Campbell and director Wherrett. Nor should his bravura performance ("how does he do it every
night, eight times a week?") was the most frequent after-show comment) diminish the contributions of Tamsin Carroll as O'Keefe's first wife, or Trisha Noble, who plays his mother. Both add lustre to the night, especially vocally but also to the acting elements of it.

Equally strong in the latter respect is Aaron Blabey (Lee Gordon).

Kurt Sneddon makes a great Peewee Wilson, the beanpole of the Delltones, but the entire crew Delltones, Col Joye and the Joye Boys, and the Shout! band under Charlie Hull, make the musical aspects of this more akin to a revival meeting.


 

Mosman Daily, Edition 1 -THU 15 MAR 2001, Page 019 by BRIAN GRIDLEY