Songs from a rising cabaret star

24-year-old David Campbell impresses at Plush Room

YOUNG AUSTRALIAN singer David Campbell, whom some New York critics consider the fastest rising star the American cabaret circuit has seen and heard since Barbra Streisand, opened a two-week run at the Plush Room on Tuesday.

Campbell's teenage career was in acting; he turned to singing three years ago.

He's a rather short, lean and lithe 24-year-old with a wonderfully warm, burry, choir-boy tenor and - once his energy-level and pace settle down - a disarmingly informal and appealing manner. In an earlier pop-music era Campbell would have been a fave of the bobby-soxers, a la "Frankie" ; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he draws an unusually large number of young women to Manhattan's "Rainbow and Stars" cabaret during his three-week stay late in October.

And, speaking of a two-generation gap - Campbell follows Rosemary Clooney into Rainbow and Stars.

Campbell's hour-long set on Tuesday shifted into high when he relaxed and sang Irving Berlin's 1929 song for Al Jolson, "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." Campbell's version is in the upbeat mood of Michael Feinstein's; later in the program he renders "Alexander's Ragtime Band," with verse, in half-time, gliding wonderfully over Berlin's syncopated beat (big stuff in 1911) as played by his piano accompanist, Chris Denny. When Campbell picked up the tempo he let me down - too noisy and unattractive.

Combining Hoagy Carmichael and Stephen Sondheim ballads might seem contrived but Campbell's openness and ease with poignant lyrics made his medley of "The Nearness of You" and "Not a Day Goes By" one of the set's most appealing offerings. Denny's arrangement, beginning and ending with the Carmichael tune (Ned Washington's lyrics), leaving "Not a Day Goes By" in the middle, proved most refreshing and enjoyable.

Even better, perhaps, was Campbell's version of "It Will Always Be You," a slow ballad by Don Walker.

On such numbers (Tom Andersen's "Yard Sale" is another) Campbell reveals a remarkable vocal maturity. In this one set of singing, he was at once the boyish, pre-World War II Sinatra and the mellow, worldly, mid-'50s Sinatra.

Also included in the opening-night performance was a truncated medley of fellow-Australian Peter Allen's great tunes ("Everything Old Is New Again," "I Honestly Love You" and others), a Feinsteinish version of Sondheim's "Broadway Baby" and a tender, heartfelt "Grateful," a song by John Bucchino, who, like Feinstein, has been an inspiration to the young Campbell.


Sept. 18, 1997
©1998 San Francisco Examiner