The first thing that I’ve got to do here is to declare my interest: I’ve figured out that Johnny O’Keefe was only eight years older than me, just old enough for his music to be a seminal part of my adolescence. So it’s no wonder that I was totally wrapt in the nostalgia of everything that went on in Shout! But nostalgia on its own would not have been enough to produce the standing ovation and all the fun of an actual rock concert that wound up the show. The fact that David Campbell made such a great fist of punching out his songs went a long way to bringing the life and times of Johnny O’Keefe back to the future.
Campbell not only sang with the same vitality as The Wild One, but from where I was sitting he also captured his physical characteristics and his restless, and ultimately drug-fuelled, energy. And he was not alone. There is a great supporting cast, representing some of the key players, movers, shakers, rockers and rollers of that era, and also looking eerily like the originals. Maybe some of that is due to the fact that the show is produced by the Jacobsen family, one of whom is better known as Col Joye, who may well have a sense of déjà vu when he sees himself on stage with the talented performing clones of O’Keefe’s band and back-up singers, the Dee Jays and the Delltones.
But perhaps the most remarkable casting is that of Trisha Noble, as The Mother. Once again, I remember when this time, when Trisha Noble was teenage Bandstand singer Patsy Ann Noble. There was a lot of publicity when she not only left all that behind her, but decided to reinvent herself as actress Trisha Noble. While her performance in Shout! shows that she is still in great voice, with hindsight that was a good move. In sharp contrast to her stage son, she took control of her life, and got satisfaction that endured well beyond 15 minutes of musical fame and a place in local rock’n’roll history. There is, then, a sweet irony in her role as the mother of Australia’s first home-grown rock star, who flashed so brightly before crashing to earth.
This version of his life captures both his rise, in the full-on first half of the show, and his fall, in the slower-moving second half. For me, the production worked best in the musical sequences, which are many (and, it must be said, extremely loud). The stage setting is geared up for them – in a barn-like space that can comfortably accommodate all of the cast assembled for the exuberant choreography of the big numbers. In the more intimate spoken interludes that capture key moments in O’Keefe’s personal life, the players look a bit lost, and perhaps consequently their dialogue sounds a bit stagy and underdone. With the exception of Aaron Blabey, who plays a deliciously hammy Lee Gordon, as a campily degenerate musical Machiavelli.
Tamsin Carroll, as The (migrant) Girl and later The (first) Wife in O’Keefe’s life, and Doug Scroope as The (typically reserved) Father, ably round out the close-knit family that was ultimately not enough to save J. O’K from himself.
Director Richard Wherrett is to be congratulated for a powerful and energetic production that had a lot of the audience tapping their feet in time to the music. Whether it works equally effectively across generations may be a bit of a moot point, however, as it is a fact that it left my much younger companion relatively unmoved.
www.STAGEDIARY.com: Queensland’s Online Stage Magazine