All-singing, all-dancing Jacobsen Entertainment’s high-voltage “Shout!” immortalizes Australia’s first rock ‘n’ roll bad boy, Johnny O’Keefe. Before his 1978 death at age 43, O’Keefe had 30 chart hits and five nervous breakdowns, had hosted two weekly TV shows and failed three attempts to crack the U.S. market. According to the show’s scribes, that was the irony of the rocker’s life: Despite huge domestic popularity, he considered himself a loser because he failed internationally, and succumbed to drink and drugs. The script, penned in broad brushstrokes by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow, merely links the songs in director Richard Wherrett’s costumed revival concert. The show ends up being all about the music, which is energetically directed by Charlie Hull.
Proving it has no claims on accuracy, “Shout” doesn’t name its characters, instead labelling Mrs. O’Keefe “The Mother,” Lee Gordon “The Promoter,” and so on. The story starts in 1954, with a young O’Keefe clamoring into center stage in Australian popular music. The charismatic son of white middle-class parents set out from Sydney’s eastern suburbs to perform angry rock renditions of existing tunes. He ended up pioneering Oz rock in an era when recordings and acts all came from offshore.
In the lead role, cabaret singer David Campbell, son of notorious hard-drinking rocker Jimmy Barnes, has made a convincing transition to anchoring a musical. He displays restricted physicality but shows great vocal range. Building momentum through 17 tunes, he appears to hold a little in reserve for a thoroughly pumped finale. But with Campbell billed as the show’s main attraction, auds have been disgruntled when the promoter failed to announce in advance the many performances by understudy Peter Murphy.
As The Father, Doug Scroope gets some snappy lines, which he delivers each time with a “badda-bing!” Trisha Noble’s Mother is a joy — all middle-class primness and motherly pride.
Michael Scott-Mitchell’s playful set design features vintage cars, straight-up band stages, trampolines disguised in piles of mattresses and a giant neon clock stage rear. The clock works well when it cranks into action, but why it hangs there throughout is a mystery.
In terms of theatrical sophistication, “Shout!” has nothing on “The Boy From Oz,” the recent Aussie musical bio of Peter Allen, but director Wherrett has ensured it delivers double the entertainment.