Back From Oz

(Cafe Carlyle; 105 capacity; $75)

Presented inhouse. Opened, reviewed Feb. 26, 2002.

Musical director, Christopher Denny; bass, Jared Egan.

After a two-year absence, David Campbell has returned to reclaim his princely place on Gotham's cabaret circuit. The 29-year-old actor-singer spent the last year appearing onstage in a hit musical in his native Australia.Campbell is a confident performer, and he soon warms up his aud with his engaging personality. His appealing light baritone boasts a wide range; on occasion it slips into an effective falsetto at the top.

In his informal, loose patter, Campbell noted he's been gradually moving uptown: from Joe's Pub downtown to the former midtown club Rainbow & Stars and now his debut at the Cafe Carlyle. "Next stop, the Apollo," he joked. He also made a pit stop on the Off Broadway stage, starring in the New York preem of Stephen Sondheim's "Saturday Night."

In his new show, he slips easily from durable standards by Rodgers & Hart and Sondheim to novelty pop-rock, adding in a handful of distinctive contemporary compositions.

Center of the act pays tribute to performers who made a considerable impact on Campbell's life, work and career. With "Mr. Bojangles," the singer bows to the memory of Sammy Davis Jr., adding subtle grace to the hoofer's ambling hymn. In a medley of "Dream Lover," "Splish Splash" and "Mack the Knife," it's Bobby Darin's turn, a churning nod to the hip crossover stylist who died in 1973. Campbell also recalls '50s pop icon Johnnie Ray with "Cry," a weathered, tearful tune seldom heard on the cabaret circuit.

On occasion, Campbell picks up his guitar to pluck a subtle torch turn, as in Michael Pemberton's "Arts and Leisure," a lonesome lament that suggests the Sunday supplement is of little value if you don't have someone to share it with.

Carol Hall was on hand opening night to hear Campbell's fervent take on her song "Do You Know What I Mean?" Another spirited declaration of independence was John Bucchino's "Taking the Wheel," the title tune from Campbell's 1997 Philips CD.

As his act draws to a close, Campbell launches into Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" with a kind of showbiz gusto seldom seen in the proper clubs. (All he really needs is a runway!)

Christopher Denny is one of Manhattan's most in-demand accompanists, and Campbell is fortunate to have his rich and flavorful support.


Variety, Feb 27, 2002- By ROBERT L. DANIELS