By Nick Pilgrim
This review may contain spoilers
Stories about singers and musicians are a sure-fire bet when it comes to building a live show or film around an actual person. Some of the more memorable examples made for film and stage include:
- Beautiful (about Carole King);
- Bohemian Rhapsody (Freddie Mercury);
- Dream Lover (Bobby Darrin);
- Dusty (Dusty Springfield);
- Judy (Judy Garland);
- Respect (Aretha Franklin);
- Rocket Man (Elton John);
- The United States versus Billie Holliday (Billie Holliday); and,
- What’s Love Got To Do With It (Tina Turner).
The list goes on.
The Australian playwright, Kieran Carroll, has developed a reputation for writing shows about local identities who have made lasting impact on the public at large. Several of his notable works include:
- Finchy – Sad As Hell (about Peter Finch);
- Newk (The John Newcombe Story); and,
- The Giraffe’s Uncle (The Les Robinson Story).
This time last year I had the good fortune to watch and review another of Carroll’s pieces at the 2021 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Starring Caroline Ferguson, Dahling – It’s The Jeanne Little Show! is a biographical cabaret which packs a great deal of punch into its compact running time. Detailing key episodes from Little’s public notoriety and private pain, the sixty-minute show paid loving and respectful tribute to the late Australian daytime television icon.
Carroll’s latest creation, however, may be his most ambitious yet.
Anyone over a certain age will know the name, Rick Springfield. Born Richard Lewis Springthorpe, as a young teen this handsome army brat found both a passion and an aptitude for making music.
An innate drive to be the best at his craft shot him to the top of the local and U.S. charts with solid gold hits like ‘Speak To The Sky’ and the song for which he will always be associated, ‘Jesse’s Girl’.
Blessed with pinup boy looks, Springfield also became a regular cast member on the long-running daytime drama, ‘General Hospital’. His breakthrough into the competitive American entertainment market helped pave the way for other Australians such as Mel Gibson and INXS. Just to name a few.
Like several stars who make it big, sustaining that level of success almost proved too much. In 2010, Springfield put pen to paper about the trappings and temptations of fame. Covering his personal and professional life in graphic yet reflective detail, Late, Late At Night was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 Great Rock Memoirs of all time.
Carroll takes the meat of that autobiography as the impetus for his new piece. The playwright drives its powerful narrative with a solid handful of Springfield’s pop hits and soulful ballads as well.
With its two-hour running time, Late, Late, At Night feels like a slow burn. Encapsulating Springfield’s fifty years in the industry, this gripping story draws viewers close and never lets up. That the artist’s tunes are used to expand on various dramatic moments, remind me of Alannis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill, where the music feels especially written for the show.
Not the other way around.
As the man in question, the Sydney based singer-actor, Jackson Carroll (no relation to Kieran), is a revelation. With fearless physical abandon and emotive immersion, Carroll throws himself into the part full force. A highly talented vocalist and musician in his own right, further reinforces this total sensory experience.
Helmed by Robert Johnson’s sensitively paced direction, Carroll guides us through Springfield’s scattered youth, a suicide attempt at seventeen, his father’s death at the height of his fame, the struggle between being a pop singer and a serious artist, financial uncertainty, a lifelong battle with depression, and as a phoenix rising from the ashes. Such is his conviction, at times I felt like I was spying on Springfield’s most private and unguarded moments. No stone is left unturned.
Riley Tapp’s spare yet effective set and costume design, along with Michael Zagarn’s appropriate mood lighting, add to the story’s multifunctional look and appeal. Millie Levakis underscores the show’s technical demands and stage management with seamless confidence.
Combined, the entire team has created a cohesive show which will satisfy hardcore fans and people new to Springfield’s work alike. Late, Late At Night is an electrifying tale of survival and redemption not to be missed.
Having kicked off for one night only at the Shirley Burke Theatre in Parkdale, the season continues this May at various locations around Victoria.
Check kierancarroll.com/rick-springfields-late-late-at-night/ for further details.