Shout!: The Legend of the Wild One, which has just opened a return season at the Arts Centre's State Theatre, uses the music of the 50s to tell the story of legendary Australian rocker Johnny O'Keefe, played by Home and Away star Tim Campbell. Featuring such Gold 104 standards as "She's My Baby", "Rock Around The Clock", "Wild One" and, of course, "Shout!", Shout! follows O'Keefe on his journey from obscurity to stardom, detailing his remarkably successful career and the inverse destruction of his personal life and, most importantly, the relationship with his beloved wife Marianne (Alexis Fishman). Though the story itself is not particularly original, Johnny O'Keefe's impact on the Australian music industry is undeniable: J O' K was the first Australian rock n' roll performer to tour the United States, and is still the Australian performer with the most Top 40 hits with a record of 29, spanning his entire career from 1959 to 1974.
This production of Shout! has been slightly altered from the last one, and now comes with unsubtle current pop culture references, like music business bigwig Lee Gordon (played by Australian Idol's Mark Holden) giving O'Keefe a "touchdown!" and a mention of O'Keefe's young nephew, the now Deal or No Deal host Andrew, being obsessed with briefcases. Not only are the references unfunny, they're also a stark reminder of the book's weaknesses. The dialogue in musicals – even the jukebox kind – is not meant to be mere filler between songs. In Shout!, it sometimes feels like the actors are aware of the awkwardness of their lines, and are just waiting for the music to start so they can have a dance, something they all do remarkably well to Ross Coleman's impressive choreography.
As Johnny O'Keefe, Tim Campbell generally manages to keep up appearances. Physically, he is far leaner and taller than O'Keefe, and doesn't quite match his unbridled, indefatigable energy. Vocally he is just fit enough to keep up with the demands of the role, and he certainly captures O'Keefe's dogged ambition to rise to stardom, but Campbell doesn't quite yet have the charisma as a stage performer to really pull off the demanding role.
Meanwhile, Alexis Fishman as his long-suffering wife, Marianne, truly shines. Fishman is a gifted performer with wonderful stage presence, and the solo number "Crazy" showcases her lovely voice. Colleen Hewitt is also a highlight as O'Keefe's mother, Thelma. Joined by such stars of yesteryear as John Paul Young, Mark Holden and Glenn Shorrock, an energetic, hardworking ensemble makes up the rest of the cast.
There's no doubt that a talented group of people have been assembled for this production. I'm also aware that the target audience for this show – like most big-budget theatre in this country – is not aimed at my generation, who have neither the money nor the interest in the era to fork out to see this show. Admittedly, many of the jokes that the audience adored went right over my head. While it is wonderful that there are so many wonderful musical options available in Melbourne this year, I am just stumped as to why producers would want to revive this show so soon after its initial run, particularly when the amateur music theatre companies have embraced so wholeheartedly since the rights became available a few years ago. With so much competing for audience's money and attention, why must we rehash something so simplistic and unoriginal? Why bring this show back? Is there enough of an audience that missed the show the first time round willing to pay money to come and see Mark Holden sing "Purple People Eater?" Is that really all audiences expect from the theatre?
There is nothing wrong with entertainment for entertainment's sake. There is nothing wrong with going to the theatre JUST to have a good time, or JUST to relive the songs of your heyday. But where some jukebox musicals are clever enough to link the songs in a meaningful, coherent way, Shout! fails to really engage.
SHOUT! The Legend of the Wild One
Venue: the Arts Centre, State Theatre
Dates: From 4 January 2008
Times: Tuesday 7pm, Wednesday – Saturday 8pm, Wednesday 1pm, Saturday 2pm, Sunday 3pm
Tickets: $59.90 to $99.90
Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 136 166