David Campbell at the Orpheum Theatre

Sydney, 18 July 1999


Yesterday, Australia's crown prince of cabaret returned for two shows, performing at one of his favorite venues, the Orpheum Theatre. In the art deco splendour of this old movie palace, Campbell once again demonstrated his talent for reaching out to his audience in the darkness.

The evening was a much more informal occasion than Campbell's last two appearances in Sydney. In addition to performing 16 numbers, he shared the evening with his musical director, Phillip Scott, as well as Kane Alexander (who did two numbers from his show INTO THE FIRE) and Natalie and Rebecca Mendoza.

And what about the music and the music-making? For this show, Campbell seemed to be moving away from tried and true cabaret material into a pop-flavoured middle ground with songs like "Moon River", "Old Devil Moon", "It Will Always Be You", "I Know A Place", "Mack the Knife" and "When the Saint Go Marchin' In". This was the repertoire that he had explored with success in his last album TAKING THE WHEEL. For these songs, the phrasing was clipped and the energy was forced. Somehow the material did not "speak."

The highlights of the show for me were those quiet, reflective ballads that David Campbell performs so superbly. These moments came with a Rodgers and Hammerstein medley of "I Have Dreamed"/"Out of My Arms", John Bucchino's "Sweet Dreams", Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When" (a nod to Campbell's success in the Encore production of BABES IN ARMS), "What'll I Do" and Tom Andersen's moving "Yard Sale." With his clear projection and sensitive delivery of the lyrics, Campbell turned up the heat and, in so doing, made so much of his up-tempo material seem like so much fool's gold amidst the genuine article.

For me there was something about the pacing of the evening that left me wanting more. It certainly had nothing to do with the slightly sore throat that Campbell was coping with. Even with that obstacle, he showed himself to be capable of holding his audience and giving us the sense that what he had to say about life and love was real and timeless. No, I think my concern centers around Campbell's move into the sort of popular repertoire that many less gifted performers make their stock and trade.

Putting that cavil aside, I continue to enjoy the growth of Campbell's art. Each appearance here confirms this young man's intelligence, his vocal gift and his depth of feeling. I can only hope that he will not lose interest in the material that he performs so well in his search for larger audiences.

by David Schwartz - Cabaret Hotline - July 1999