The Aussie and the Scot

There is no shortage of great looking young guys in cabaret right now. Currently engaged in the battle of bone structures, you've got musical theater/TV star John Barrowman at Arci's Place and musical theater/cabaret star David Campbell at The Café Carlyle. Both are heart-stoppers and both have built solid reputations, but that's where the similarities end.

David Campbell: Better Than Ever

Now 28, the seasoned performer David Campbell has returned to New York from his native Australia after an absence of nearly two years. During his time away, he starred in (among other things) a rock musical that toured his homeland. In his new cabaret act at the Café Carlyle, Campbell sings one song from that show: "Cry" (Churchill/Kohlman), an American pop ballad of  the 1950s that he invests with genuine emotion.

Looking at this entire act, which runs the gamut from Rodgers & Hart to  Bobby Darin, it becomes clear that the key to Campbell's ever-increasing success as a cabaret artist is his attention to lyrics. The reason he can  come back to the U.S. after being away so long and still command a whopping $75.00 cover charge at the Café Carlyle (be grateful, at least, that there's no minimum!) is that he respects the lyrics of each song he sings, regardless of its genre. His good looks and charm are ever present, but Campbell takes you well past the superficial with his lived-in tenor voice and serious acting chops.

He calls his show Back from Oz, and he addresses his wanderings in the opening number, "Gypsy in My Soul" (Jaffe/Boland). Then he sings Stephen Sondheim's "Old Friends" (from Merrily We Roll Along) as a way of re-bonding with his faithful American followers. Under the gifted musical direction of pianist Christopher Denny, this is a smart, well-crafted show that spins off in a lot of directions and, yet, doesn't lack cohesion because it's held together by the sheer force of Campbell's talent and personality. There's no better example of how completely he held the audience in sway than to note that, despite the failure of the Café Carlyle to lower the house lights during the show, there was total silence during

Campbell's ballads. To his credit, he didn't need theatrical lighting; this electric entertainer provided all necessary shadings of light and dark in his performance.

One of the many musical roads traveled by Campbell in this act leads him to a series of Australian pop songs from the '80s, the best of which are "Comic Conversations" (J. Bromley) and "What About Me" (Frost/Frost). The show also includes a highly successful tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. in the form of a talk/sung rendition of "Mr. Bojangles" that features a daring Christopher Denny arrangement and some stylish work on bass by Jared Egan. And even though Campbell's Bobby Darin medley seemed somewhat truncated, there is no doubt that this young Aussie utterly captures the brash energy of his idol.

That energy is so palpable that, on stage at the Café Carlyle, Campbell sometimes seems like a restless, caged tiger. Paradoxically, he shines brightest when singing a tender ballad like "Where or When" (Rodgers & Hart). But, in truth, he shines from start to finish in this show—and that includes his quick-witted, often ad-libbed patter. Simply put, it's great to have him back in New York.

 

By: Barbara & Scott Siegel - 28 Feb 2002