The taming of the wild ones

Australian rock legend Johnny O' Keefe was known as The Wild One, but Shout!, the story of his short, turbulent life, is pretty tame stuff. Although there are some terrific performances and some great singing, Shout!, directed by Richard Wherrett, rarely captures the rawness, vibrancy and sheer gutsiness of the music.

The songs, including She's My Baby, Sing (and Tell the Blues So Long), So Tough, Move Baby, Move, I'm Counting On You, Right Now, She Wears My Ring, and, of course, Shout! are as great as ever.

JOK (David Campbell) is certainly important enough to have his own musical. He not only had a terrific rock'n'roll voice gravelly, rough and better than a lot of people gave him credit for he did something few Oz rockers had done before him: he had hit singles.

His life was also the stuff of legend. He rose from suburban obscurity with a mixture of raw talent, sheer front and iron will. He experienced the highs of local success not only the hit songs, but his own TV shows, Six O'Clock Rock (compulsory viewing in the late '50s and early '60s) and Sing, Sing, Sing.

But he also knew the disappointments of failed US and UK tours, not to mention the lows of drug use, a series of nervous breakdowns, psychiatric treatment and a broken marriage.

Throw in another legendary figure in the history of Oz rock, the trail-blazing American-born promoter Lee Gordon (Aaron Blabey), who is referred to in the program as The Promoter, as well as Col Joye and The Delltones, and all the ingredients would seem to be there.
The major problem is the bland script, written by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow. The show begins and ends in 1975 at the sacred site of The Sydney Stadium, where most of the big shows of '50s rock took place. The rest of the story simply moves from year to year with little dramatic focus.

The jokes are cliched, the dialogue is mechanical and parts of the show are sentimental. Some scenes, such as the one featuring O'Keefe and The Promoter singing the '50s novelty hits Purple People Eater and Witch Doctor, try very hard to achieve a wacky comic effect but simply don't work.

Some of the more interesting scenes chart JOK's transition from Wild One to mainstream TV host. By this time, like Elvis, JOK had been made to look old-fashioned by The Beatles.

The show contains a number of excellent performances. Campbell's O'Keefe possesses a sense of the driven entertainer as well as the unassuming suburban lad. He's at his best in the second half when he turns out some absolutely belting versions of JOK's biggest hits; his rendition of Shout! is a genuine showstopper.

Tamsin Carroll, as JOK's wife, almost steals the show with the old Patsy Kline hit Crazy; it's a knockout version of a knockout song. It is, in fact, one of the most effortlessly moving sections of the production. Special mention should also be made of Trisha Noble and Doug Scroope as JOK's parents.

By STEVEN CARROLL - Saturday 13 January 2001