From Johnny to Jack (The Little Red Company)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
February 15 – 16
When Luke Kennedy begins his “From Johnny to Jack” John Farnham show with musical recall of how one is the loneliest number, it serves as an instant reminder of the extensive catalogue of Farnsie hits. Even so, the work, which charts the greatest comeback in Australian rock and roll history, offers some unexpected song discoveries as its first act takes us through then little Johnny Farnham’s teen pop icon popularity and then decline. Although necessary to the narrative, the act drags a little through musical numbers from “Charlie Girl” and “Pippin”, however, duet with Stefanie Caccamo for ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’ adds some interest. (Caccamo also later gives a commanding performance of the clean-cut star’s second number one hit, ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’).
Act Two opens to a rocking ‘Playing to Win’ and nostalgic Little River Band medley of numbers in signpost of when Johnny becoming John after meeting legendary music manager Glenn Wheatley. Before long, the anthemic ‘You’re the Voice’ has audience members on their feet for the finest of feel good singalongs. And who needs a bagpiper when you have Jonny Ng from Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, the other star of the show, on violin, breathing beautiful new life and love into the novelty song ‘Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)’. In fact, all members of the world-class band are outstanding from the show’s opening musical melody. And Stephen Ward’s guitar solo makes ‘Help’ another highlight, working in conjunction with Kennedy’s strong, soaring vocals to give it an added depth. Sam Gibb’s lighting also works wonderfully to transition the music and moods of the show’s medleys.
“From Johnny to Jack” is not just a worthy celebration of the only Australian artist to have a number one record in five consecutive decades, but a great vehicle for Kennedy’s talent. In particular, it showcases his incredible range as he effortlessly slides between up-tempo and lingering songs alike, sometimes sounding very much like the King of Pop himself. But it is the ballads that allow his passionate voice the best opportunity to linger. His vocals sit in the moments of ‘Burn for You’ with an emotion to tear at your heart, while the gentle touch of ‘Please Don’t Ask Me’ is emphasised by his stirring vocal sounds. And both numbers are made all the more memorable thanks to Ng’s evocative violin accompaniment.
Once Johnny becomes Whispering Jack, a tight Act Two flies by in what seems like the shortest of times, with return audience members noting the show’s improved pacing compared to earlier realisations. Unpredictably not leaving ‘You’re the Voice’ to be the show’s encore, proves to be a spot-on decision, leaving room for a fabulous concluding medley of the smash hit songs audience members are expecting to hear in Whispering Jack revisit.
When, early in Act One, Kennedy uses ‘Don’t You Know It’s Magic’ to introduce “From Johnny to Jack” as a journey through the greatest untold story in Australian musical history, it seems entirely appropriate, because experience of this smash of a show is, indeed quite magical. Its jumping energy and feel-good, heart-warming celebration of one of his country’s best-known and most popular performers is so infectious that it immediately has you wanting to bring all your friends along to experience it again.