Sweet Dreams
Australian Review

Unafraid of the unfamiliar

SWEET DREAMS, Cremorne Orpheum, February 19

David Campbell has rapidly matured into a confident performer, a prodigious talent who is building on his music theatre and cabaret experience by venturing into original, riskier territory.

In recent years he has become a fine interpreter of classic theatre repertoire, songs by Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Kern, Sondheim, Herman and the like. None of the musical theatre greats has been too forbidding or off-limits to Campbell, whose passion and tremendous vigour would testify. His natural affinity with Broadway tradition, as well as the pop ballads or story songs of contemporary writers, has established his identity as a rare and remarkable find.

With his decision to base himself in New York for the next few years, visits here are likely to be infrequent, yet cause for anticipation. Earlier this month, in the Encore series concerts of Rodgers & Hart's Babes in Arms, he was praised by one critic for the "shimmering, all-American brightness" of his portrayal.

Experiences such as these continue to nourish his craft. He has come a long way since the time of his The Kid Inside cabaret shows - his depth of command and rich, strong vocal timbre such that he effortlessly manages to draw out the textual drama, the follies, the bittersweet emotions and quietly heroic triumphs of the repertoire he chooses to sing. Sweet Dreams, conceived as an intimate showcase of songs penned by American composer John Bucchino, reveals that Campbell has found an original, inspirational and distinctive voice to enhance and give new direction to his own. Although the Cremorne Orpheum is not an ideal venue for this type of cabaret - the lighting was distracting and abysmal - Campbell and Bucchino, who sang and played piano, were generous and good humoured; the "Dave 'n' John Show" it might have been called.

Bucchino's songs and style of performance are intricate, novel and fanciful, while such musical influences as Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder and Stephen Sondheim percolate their way through. Not all the songs are instantly memorable but some, particularly Sweet Dreams's final section drawn from Bucchino's musical Urban Myths, are absorbing and magnificently realised by the collaborators.

Campbell, with clarity and childlike wonder, makes the fantastical song My Alligator and Me come alive with affection and wit, while the story song Grateful, inspired by the death of Bucchino's brother from AIDS, draws the evening to a close - not with maudlin feeling or despair, but courage, honour and love.

The composer's rendition of Temporary, part of the Urban Myths cycle, was intense and elating, while Campbell made every word count in This Moment. It is not often that cabaret and music theatre performers get a chance to strike out somewhere new and unfamiliar, but the creative partnership Campbell has forged with Bucchino is original and exciting.

Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, February 22, 1999 Reviewed by BRYCE HALLETT