Theatricality by an All-Australian Boy

In a cabaret world where careers tend to build slowly over many years, occasionally a meteor appears. David Campbell, an affable 25-year-old Australian singer, breezed to the top last year with a sellout engagement at Rainbow and Stars, where he became the youngest performer ever to be given a solo stint. On Tuesday evening he returned to the club for a three-week engagement that finds him moving away from pop standards toward an assimilative 1970's style of soft rock.

On the stage, Mr. Campbell, who occasionally picks up a guitar, is an engaging, clean-cut natural who could be described as an all-Australian boy. Ingenuous without being corny, confident without seeming arrogant, polished but not slick, heartfelt but never mawkish, he has a knack for telescoping music from all over the map into a flexible format that embraces everything from Broadway show tunes to 1960's pop-soul to Brazilian bossa nova.

One key to Mr. Campbell's versatility is his chameleonlike voice. Crooning soft, tear-jerking ballads like Tom Andersen's "Yard Sale" or Randy Newman's "Marie" at Tuesday's opening night show, Mr. Campbell displayed the quivering vibrato and reedy timbre of Johnny Mathis, the most prominent among several obvious influences. But when Mr. Campbell sang out, his voice toughened into the kind of soul-flavored folk-rock declamation popularized by singers like Kenny Loggins.

It is a voice that has theatrical heft. (Mr. Campbell recently played Marius in the 10th anniversary production of "Les Misérables" in Sydney.)

The other key to Mr. Campbell's ascent is his winning personality. If he is not yet a sophisticated interpreter (irony and double meaning elude him), Mr. Campbell stamps everything he sings with a sincerity and outgoing charm that work like a tonic.


The New York Times, by Stephen Holden - October 16, 1998