Boy Wonder from Down Under

Australian upstart David Campbell rocks Rainbow & Stars by Marisa Cohen

I f you believe the hype, the entire future of cabaret seems to rest on David Campbell's smartly coifed head. Last year, at age 24, Campbell became the youngest performer ever to headline Rainbow & Stars.

After a trip back to his native Australia to star in Les Miserables, Gen X's answer to Tony Bennett has returned to Rainbow to prove that his supersonic rise to the top of the cabaret scene was not a fluke - and he succeeds in smashing form.

Leaping onto the stage, grabbing an acoustic guitar and ripping into Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," Campbell immediately sends waves of energy coursing through the room. Amazingly enough, he manages to maintain this heightened level of excitement throughout the show, Campbell, along with his exceptional musical director, Christopher Denny, has wisely chosen a program of pop songs that emphasizes the crisp sweetness in his voice. In a particularly lovely moment, he pairs two little-known songs about achingly pure first loves. Tom Waits's "Johnsburg Illinois" and Randy Newman's "Marie." He also captures the heart-pounding joy of life in Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March," a bossa nova that starts out with a simple percussion accompaniment (by Rex Benincasa) and builds into a delirious, gorgeous dissonance with piano and bass (by Denny and Jon Burr, respectively). When Campbell tries to delve into deeper interpretations, though, as in a medley of Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" and Sondheim's "Not a Day Goes By," his callowness shows.

In an interesting inversion of the usual evolution of musical tastes, Campbell grew up listening to Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole, while his father, Jimmy Barnes, is a Springteen-like rock star in Australia, Giving genetics its due, Campbell rocks out on "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher" and also does an absolutely gorgeous rendition of the Beatles'"In my Life," accompanying himself on guitar. In musical-theater mode, he does a priceless imitation of Mandy Patinkin singing "Hello, Dolly."

The question, then, is not whether Campbell deserves his moment in the cabaret spotlight, but how long he will remain in it. With his cleancut, Jason Priestley-esque looks, he could very well turn up on Felicity or Party of Five this season as a cute Australian exchange student. Or he could dye his hair blond and play Mark Cohen in Rent. Or star in a soap opera. If we still had bubble-gum pop idols of the David Cassidy or Rick Nelson type, he would easily slide into that role. Rut cabaret's got David Campbell for now, and let's all enjoy him while we can.

David Campbell is at Rainbow & Stars through October 31.


by Marisa Cohen - Time Out, New York - 22 October 1998