The biographical story of our own Australian rocking ‘Wild One’ Johnny O’Keefe is once again brought to life on stage, this time by MLOC’s production of Shout. With vivid sets and flamboyant period costumes, we are transported back to the 50s and 60s of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll with many favoured and memorable numbers of the time.
O’Keefe was unquestionably a raw, home-grown talent who came into his own at a time when Australian pop was still dominated by the icons of American and British music. This New South Wales’ boy set the pace and forged the path for future generations of rock ‘n’ rolls stars. He achieved his national icon status despite a difficult personal life chequered with alcohol, drugs and mental health issues.
The volatile nature of his journey is cleverly portrayed in this narrative with the songs he was best known for woven into the fabric of the show making it interesting, educational and engaging, especially for those who were around when he was at the height of his career.
It was clear from the first note that director Rhylee Nowell had a clear vision of how she wanted the audiences to experience this show by bringing various levels of audience engagement into the mix. The audience was more than just a spectator, they become part of the show itself, which was really apparent in the number of toes tapping, shoulders dancing and the gentle hum of singing along to these well-known songs. Nowell, along with her co-choreographer Sabrina Klock, took full use the cast, the stage and more to make the experience of the show as vibrant and active as the character of Johnny O’Keefe himself.
The challenging role of taking on such an Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll icon was performed convincingly by the handsome Matt Jakowenko. Jakowenko looked the part from head to toe, and gave us his best rendition of some great Australian accents which made it all the more appealing. He kept up his level of energy from the opening number to the closing giving his rendition of songs such as “I’m gonna knock on your door”, “Over the Mountain” and, of course, “Shout”.
Taking on the role of Marianne Renate, O’Keefe’s tormented wife was Claire de Freitas. Portraying a character with an accent is not an easy task, but de Freitas did this consistently with only a few times you noticed its loss in some of the songs. de Freitas was a great foil for Jakowenko and supported him very well, particularly in their duet number “Save the last dance”. de Freitas has a lovely singing voice and it carried her through the whole show without fail.
The humorous duo of O’Keefe’s parents, played by Time Byron and Karen Shnider, were great together and really worked well as a team, bouncing off each other. They gave the audience that reminiscent feel of stereotypical parents of the 50s and 60s, supportive and yet disapproving at the same time.
A constant presence in O’Keefe’s life was that of his manager Lee Gordon, played by Graeme Bullus. Bullus did a good job of portraying a typically American character with an accent and self-serving nature all mixed into one. It was clear from the portrayal of this character that whilst Lee Gordon had a big influence on O’Keefe’s life professionally, his influence on O’Keefe’s personal life was less than positive.
A small, more intimate setting such as the Shirley Burke Theatre can provide both opportunities and challenges. The most obvious one is what to do with the orchestra. However, given the nature of the show, having the orchestra (or should I say band in this instance) on stage worked really well and made perfect sense. They were actively part of the show both musically as well as visually and sometimes they even interacted with the cast.
The part of Musical Director and Costume Coordinator were both performed by the talented Tim Ryan. Ryan did a great job of getting the costumes both vivid and of the time. We were able to look back at the safari suit and think “WTF were people wearing back then?!” Ryan’s musical direction also worked really well as the band supported the cast very well despite the challenge of being on stage with them.
The sets and lighting were both simple and effective. Sets were of the time and capture the essence of the situation. Each change of set was mostly fast and occurred unnoticed, though admittedly getting half an FJ Holden on and off stage is never an easy task.
Congratulations to MLOC for their hard work and effort into putting on this production and also to provide opportunities for new and enthusiastic up-and-comers into the wonderful world of musical theatre.
So for those you out there who like a bit of good ol’ Australian rock ‘n’ roll you can tap your feet to, sing along too.. well then.. Hold your hands up, kick your heels up, throw your head back and SHOUT!
SHOUT – The Legend of The Wild One explodes on the stage for 7 SHOWS ONLY from 13 October to 21 October 2017 at the Shirley Burke Theatre, Parkdale.