Monday, May 23, 2016

Sons of Sun - The Sam Phillips Story

Sons of Sun- The Sam Phillips Story.

Written by Kieran Carroll from an original idea by musician and singer John Kennedy. Directed by Louise Fisher Originating Director Neil Gooding. Featuring the songs of Sun Record Company artists Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis  Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. White Eagle Club. The Polish Club. Saturday May 21. 2016

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins




They say if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there. I do remember the Sixties and I was there, but it’s the Fifties that I remember more vividly. It was the time of Elvis, of Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Bill Haley and The Comets had already changed my world and Rock ‘n Roll left crooners out in the cold, although Johnny Ray still took me walking in the rain.

I knew the names and I sang their songs, but what I didn’t know was the one man who made it all happen. He could have been a lawyer if his father hadn’t died and the Great Depression hadn’t forced him to drop out of school with one dream dashed, but another still shining brightly in Memphis. Sam Phillips loved the Blues and the new music, bursting forth from the sounds of Gospel and the Blues and if he hadn’t dropped out, the world might never have heard of Sun Records and the sounds of Elvis (Jailhouse Rock), Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes), Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire), Cash (In Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home) or Orbison (Only The Lonely). Phillips was ahead of his time. He took on black musician Howlin’ Wolf (Wolf’s At The Door) when the South was still in the grip of segregation. He set up WHER, the first all=female radio station to play Sun’s songs. And he made the stars that shone most brightly in Rock ‘n Roll Heaven.

Matt Charleston as Sam Phillips in Sons of
Sun - The Sam Phillips Story. Photo by Dusk Devi Vision
Sitting comfortably on a couch on the stage of the Polish Club’s White Eagle Hall, I wondered why nobody had thought of telling the Sam Phillip’s story before. Even though the show has been on the road apparently for the past three years, this was the first time that I had heard of Sons of Sun- The Sam Phillips Story, written by prolific award winning Melbourne Writer Kieran Carroll as the support act for musician and vocalist John Kennedy, of Love Gone Wrong, and his backing guitarists. I am more accustomed to musicals where the music tends to support the script, or at least be a companion. In Sons of Sun, Carroll’s carefully researched and informative narration and interactive scenes serves chiefly to provide the links to Kennedy’s soulful, swelling sounds of the Blues and the thrusting force of Rock ‘n roll rhythms and lyrics of youth rebellion. Kennedy’s trio is a powerhouse of nostalgia and uncanny impressions. Loud and wailing, filling the club with Fifties sounds, Kennedy’s vocals, backed by guitarists, Paul Scott and Murray Cook, pulsate with energy, full blasted sound and song that seduces the audience into foot tapping, body jiving motion.

On the miniscule stage and with amps at full volume, the miked actors still have to burst forth to top the sounds, and Carroll’s script at times struggles above the music and the actors seem cramped into a tight performance area to play out the action of the script, largely consisting of narration by Ben Maclaine, and scenes between Phillips (Matt Charleston) and Victoria Beck who takes on several roles, like Maclaine, including Phillips’s partner and Muse Marion Keisker.  Carroll’s concise and effective script reveals Phillips’s tough childhood, his entry into the music industry, his early labels and finally his work with Sun Records and the discovery of a shy Elvis, black Howlin’ Wolf, the Perkins Brothers, Cash and Orbison and the erratic, loose cannon and wild man of rock ‘n roll, Jerry Lee Lewis. Maclaine acts out all the iconic male singers, while Kennedy takes us through thirty five songs, with snatches only of classic hits such as Peace in the Valley, Blue Suede Shoes, Walk The Line, Walking in the Rain, Ooby Dobby and many more. I’m in Seventh Heaven and a boy back in my home with the radio on.

Ben Maclaine as Carl Perkins. Matt Charleston as Sam Phillips
Victoria Beck as Marion Kreisker.
The small stage at the back of the White Eagle Club’s hall is hardly sufficient to effectively house  both Carroll’s script and Kennedy’s vocals and music.  Director, Louise Fisher, has allowed both the scenes and the musical numbers to separately occupy their own moments on the stage with some connection between the action of the scenes and the songs, but Sons of Sun deserves a grander stage. Carroll’s script is too interesting to simply be an appendage to the band, the performances too versatile and strong,  and the band is too good to be constrained by interspersed scenes. Sons of Sun deserves to be developed into a mainstage musical.
Murray Cook, John Kennedy and Paul Scott in
Sons of Sun - The Sam Phillips Story
If the success of any performance is to be gauged by the audience involvement, then the audience were soon into the swing of the music, jiving on the floor during the numbers and absorbed in the dramatic re-enactment of Phillips’s struggles and successes. The touring club circuit version is a sure-fire hit.

Unfortunately, Canberra only had a one night stand. If you were a Fifties guy or chic, then watch out for the return of Sons of Sun. You’ll have a night’s entertainment that will have you jiving to your car as you sing the songs out loud all the way home..