Shout! Survives Soggy Script

The life of Johnny O'Keefe is the latest big-budget Aussie musical to hit the boards. John Burfitt took a seat in the Plymouth for a ride with the real wild child.

By John Burfitt

It was just three years ago that The Boy From Oz smashed through the long-held belief that a big-budget Australian musical could not find a
popular audience. The acclaimed slick roduction and the multi-million dollar profit, put paid to that belief once and for all.

And so in its wake, Shout! is the next big-budget Aussie musical to hit the boards. And because of this standing, comparisons are already being drawn between the two shows - and it is true, the two shows do share similarities. Like the Peter Allen show, Shout! follows the story of a legendary Australian entertainer and the score consists of old music the entertainer made famous.

But that’s where comparisons end. In answer to the question “is Shout! as good as The Boy From Oz?”, the honest reply must be "no".

That is not to say Shout! is without its merits. It has many things going for it and is eminently watchable and ultimately entertaining. It also features an outstanding cast, who are the reason why this show works as well as it does. The music is tremendous fun and the arrangements of the old hits work very effectively. Shout! is truly a crowd pleaser in which the audience leaves the theatre feeling like they have had a good time. If you liked Buddy, then you’ll love Shout!

Shout! tackles the life and times of Johnny O’Keefe, the man knows as “the king of Australian rock’n’roll”, who smashed the cultural cringe of the 1950s and helped create an Australian rock music scene. He had more ambition than talent, but he did pave the way for other Australian rock artists to follow.

O’Keefe lead an extraordinary life - a Catholic upbringing, loving parents, stage and chart success, his own TV variety shows,marriage and family, infidelity, American and UK tours, drug and alcohol abuse, manic depression, mental institutions and an early death at the age of 43 in 1978.

Shout! covers all these bases, but it does so with a variety of success. The soggy script is cliche-ridden and almost afraid to tackle anything beneath the surface. The characters are not well developed and it is hard to feel too much affinity for them. It is a testament to the skills of the actors that they make the story work, but they never have more than a simple framework. It would help to have learnt more about O’Keefe, what fuelled his ambition and his relationships, but the show races too quickly to the next number. There are lots of get through, in a show which unnecessarily runs for over three hours.Thirty-plus musical numbers is an embarrassment of riches and some do nothing but slow down the story.

The staging of the show - all done within the giant corrugated iron walls of the old Sydney Stadium - is also not an asset. While some scenes are supposed to represent the O’Keefe’s dining room, a Kings Cross apartment or a hospital ward, they are not helped by the cold cavernous space surrounding them. Director Richard Wherrett’s setting of most of these scenes is satisfactory rather than inspired or clever. The same can be said for Ross Coleman’s choreography.

Shout! tries to cover a great deal of ground and the casting of David Campbell in the title role is a brilliant choice. With more vocal talent than the real O’Keefe ever had, Campbell is outstanding and gives the character an edge that is the powerhouse of the show. But he is not alone and is supported by the excellent Tamsin Carroll as his wife and Aaron Blabey as promoter, Lee Gordon. Trish Noble and Doug Scroope are also very good as his parents, as are Anita Plateris and Walter Grkovic in minor roles. The Delltones, featuring the vocal talent of Todd Goddard and Kurt Sneddon’s lookalike turn as Pee Wee Wilson, are very strong and turn the Get A Job number into a showstopper. What I’d Say, I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door, Sing, Sing, Sing and Crazy are also very effective. The title number, with Campbell giving it everything he’s got, brought the audience to their feet on opening night. It was a most deserved ovation.

Shout! The Legend Of The Wild One is now playing at the Capitol Theatre, Haymarket. Phone Ticketmaster on 136 166 for bookings.
Admission prices range from $69.90 (A Reserve) to $49.90(Concession).

Sydney Star Observer, p.13 - 15th March 2001