Give My Regards to Broadway...

Adelaide singer who found fame on the New York stage is coming home to further his rock career and resume his on-off Australian romance.

Jimmy Barnes' son decides it's time to return to his roots as Michael Cameron reports from New York

It's a plot worthy of it's own Broadway musical. A young man, attempting to escape the shadow of his famous rock star father, trains to become a cabaret singer. His talents, good looks and personality propel him to giddy heights - beginning in inner-city Australian pubs, ending at some of New York's top venues, playing opposite the biggest names. At the moment of his greatest success, when he is offered one of the hottest roles on Broadway, the young man turns his back on this American career, choosing to return to Australia to marry his long-term sweetheart and become a rock star like his father. So reads the lyric book for "David Campbell - The Musical." The boy from Adeliade is swapping his tuxedo for a blue singlet.

He is coming home next week to begin recording an album for Liberation Records. For the past four years, Campbell has been charging back and forth between Australia and the United States trying to get a foothold in New York showbusiness. His arrival on the cabaret scene here was like a breath of fresh air for a rather stale and dying genre. Time Out magazine likened the audience reaction in New York to that given to Barbra Streisand three decades earlier. This kid was going to be a hit, they said. However, there are no short cuts to success in Manhattan. Walk into any restaraunt in New York - if your waiter is not a wanna-be movie actor, he or she is probably practising the chorus from Les Miserables in the kitchen.

After stints at the Rainbow Room, the Algonquin Hotel and the Firebird Cafe, Campbell looked headed for the big time this year when he was picked by Broadway god Stephen Sondheim to star as the lead in his musical Saturday Night. While the show had a limited run, the critics were unanimous in their praise for Campbell, who played Gene, the leading man. At the end of the season, Campbell and the other cast members recorded an album (to be released later this year), which was closely supervised by Sondheim, a notorious perfectionist. After listening to the Australian record one of the songs from Saturday Night, the New York Times reported; "Mr Sondheim had almost nothing to correct" in Campbells's performance - a considerable compliment from the 70-year old.

A few weeks later after being side by side with Sondheim, David was sharing the stage with another idol, Johnny Mathis. Campbell sang back-up voacls for the legend's version of On Broadway during an AIDS benefit at the New Amsterdam Theatre. This was a special moment for the young Australian.

Growing up in Adelaide, his first introduction to music was his grandmother's Johnny Mathis record collection. Little David would walk around singing Chances Are at the top of his voice - a song he still includes in his playlist.It was not until he turned 12 that he was told by his family about his singing pedigree - that Jimmy Barnes was his father.

At the same time he was informed that his "sister" Kim was actually his mother (who had a brief dalliance with Barnes during the Cold Chisel days) and that the woman he had known as Mum all his life was actually his grandmother. "David Campbell - The Musical" may need opera-like subtitles to explain this elaborate plot. After the reconciliation with his father, Campbell chose a different path to pursue his musical interests. While Barnsie was belting out rock ballads for black T-shirt wearing Chisel fans, his son was crooning love songs before intimate crowds at inner-city nightspots.

He arrived in new York aged 20, a seasoned performer, initially winning them over in the nightclubs before being offered roles in bigger performances. It all seemed to be coming together quite well last month when Campbell was offered the lead role in the Broadway revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie, opposite veteran actress Bea Arthur (of The Golden Girls fame). It would be his first on-Broadway production (Saturday Night was slightly off-Broadway) - guaranteeing him maximum exposure in the musical capital of the world. However, much to the surprise of the New York producers and his Manhattan press agent Tony O'Riglio, David chose to turn down the role, prefferring to accept another offer in Australia to record his first contemporary pop-rock album. "It's a direction he has always wanted to go," Mr O'Riglio explained yesterday. "He also feels that Broadway will always be here. He feels that he has made some nice inroads and after he gets this album out, he can always come back."

There is another, more compelling reason for David to return to hins homeland. Her name is Natalie Mendoza, his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Mr O'Riglio confirmed rumours that the couple have become engaged a second time, and will marry in Australia, sometime next month or in August. Campbell, 26 and Mendoza, 23, met as cast members of the Australian production of Les Miserables and were engaged for 14 months. The couple announced their split at the end of last year, with Campbell saying "she's still my best friend, but it was just too hard - the distance thing." It appears Natalie has won a battle of wills as it is he, not she, who is moving to keep the relationship afloat. The pair were holidaying in California and could not be contacted this week.

While his American fans will be disappointed, David Campbell's career choice is a clever one. There is currently a surplus of young cabaret singers trying to make it on the New York scene - belting out sentimental Broadway standards, most of which were written before they born. It is not the best of times for musical theatre. Broadway producers are increasingly turning to revivals of old standards, rather than generating new shows. Campbell is eager to write original music (he has co-written a song with Jimmy Barnes) and is too good to spend the rest of his life hanging around piano lounges, producing second-rate compilation albums. He may never produce a song to rival Breakfast at Sweethears or Khe Sahn, but he has the talent and the chutzpah to give rock stardom a good tilt. As for the David Campbell Musical, one suspects the librettist is still working on the first act.

 

Adelaide Advertiser - 3 June, 2000