David Resists Apple Allure

He made it big in the toughest city in the world, New York. But Australia is again home for David Campbell as he prepares to perform in the Olympic of the arts.

David Campbell is over in New York. It's where he came into his own as a performer, and where he developed an acclaimed double act with cabaret legend Barbara Cook.

But today, munching on a wrap in Greenwich Village, Campbell is thinking of the upcoming Sydney Olympic Arts Festival and his plans to marry his long-time girlfriend Natalie Mendoza.

"My shows have felt better, and I'm more relaxed since I've decided that I am not going to be here," Campbell says

"I'll go back better. I think you sometimes lose battles by staying on."

Campbell 27, moved to New York from Sydney 2 years ago and has developed a strong following.

He has toured his unique cabaret style throughout Middle America, to Florida, to Chicago, to London. He recently returned from Houston, but making it in New York has been his greatest challenge.

"It's tough town because there are so many people" Campbell muses.

"That also means you're bound to find a niche eventually, but breaking into it can take years - and that's where it breaks you because a lot of people can't take that.

"I've had amazing rewards, but there have been times when I've questioned why I'm here.

"The main thing about New York is whether you have the tenacity to stay on.

"I'm the Oz and could stay for years, but I didn't want to lose myself in that. I just wasn't enjoying what I was doing any more."

Touring has forced Campbell to adapt his show to diverse audiences. These days, his repertoire stretches from Australian pop to musical standards and a recent empathy for country star Willie Nelson.

Campbell's form of cabaret is personal and forever changing.

"Cabaret wasn't really a conscious decision for me," he says. "I was acting, and I started being offered musicals. I figured I should warm up my voice, so I stared doing cabaret.

"I didn't even know what it was, but it sort of developed into coming over here - but I didn't like the term `cabaret singer' much.

"I think it's limiting, because people see it as someone who stands behind a microphone and croons. That's not what I do at all.

"Cabaret should only be a mini-concert anyway - a more intimate concert form."

Campbell has been stretching the boundaries of what he does by working with Barbara Cook, a cabaret diva of world repute.

"I want to do a lot of things with Miss Cook that you wouldn't see her do ordinarily, such as a duet from Carousel or The Music Man or She Loves Me." He says.

"We're a good match because she's sophisticated but earthly so we have similar energy."

Campbell's emergence on the cabaret scene in the Bug Apple was well noted.

The genre hadn't had a newcomer like him for years - not since the esteemed Harry Connnick Jr hit town.

Time Out magazine likened the audience reaction to that given to Barbra Streisand three decades earlier.

"This kid is going to be a hit" the show biz journal crowed.

After stints at prestigious venues such as the Rainbow Room, the Algonquin Hotel and the Firebird Cafe, Campbell looked headed for the big time earlier this year when Broadway guru Stephen Sondheim selected him as the lead in his musical Saturday Night.

Although the show had a limited run, the critic were unanimous in their praise for the talented, good-looking Aussie.

At season's end, Campbell and the other cast members recorded an album (to be released later this year), closely supervised by Sondheim, who is a notorious perfectionist.

After listening to the Campbell record one of the songs from Saturday Night, The New York Times noted: "Mr Sondheim had almost nothing to correct" in Campbell's performance - a huge compliment from the maestro.

A few weeks later, Campbell was sharing the stage with another of his idols, Johnny Mathis.

He sang back-up vocals for Mathis's version of On Broadway at an AIDS benefit concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

This was a special moment for Campbell, who was introduced to music through 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 play list.

Campbell's grandmother rasied him in Adelaide, and he credits her with opening he's ears to music.

She filled the house with music - the Walker Brothers, Johnny Mathis, Matt Monro and a sprinkling of pop.

Jimmy and DavidWhen Campbell's was about to enter his teens, his family informed him of his singing pedigree: rock legend Jimmy Barnes was his father.

At the same time, he was told his "sister", Kim, was actually his mother (who had had a brief affair with Barnes during the Cold Chisel days) and that the woman he had known as "Mum" all his life was, in reality, his grandmother.

"I didn't know who Jimmy was before I met him, but that's all right.

He served his purpose," Campbell grins.

"He'd been an influence - very much so - but even before I met him, I had this fantasy life this desire to be a singer.

"When I met him, it just made more sense."

Although he reconciled with his father, Campbell chose a very different path from Barnes.

While his father was belting out rock ballads for raucous Cold Chisel fans in their black T-shirts, Campbell was gathering a loyal following crooning love songs before intimate crowds at inner-city nightspots.

Barnes hasn't always been supportive of his son's musical direction, but Campbell is adamant it was the path he was compiled to tale.

When he lobbed in New York at the age of 20, he was already a seasoned performer.

After winning over demanding New York nightclub audiences, he began receiving offers to perform in bigger productions.

The biggest has just beckoned: Campbell was selected for the lead role in the Broadway revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie, opposite veteran Bea Athurm of TV's the Golden Girls.

This is a Broadway production virtually guaranteeing him maximum exposure in the music capital of the world.

But the Australian boy wanted to return home.

So he's turned his back on Broadway and has agreed to record his first contemporary pop-rock album back home.

The other compelling reason to return home was for love - the love of Natalie Mendoza, his on-again, off-again girlfriend. The 27-year-old performer and Mendoza 23, met as cast members of the Australian production of Les Miserables and were engaged for 14 months.

They announced their split at the end of last year. At the time, Campbell was quoted as saying "She's still my best friend, but it was just too hard - the distance thing."

But love it seems has won out.

Campbell's first performance back on home ground will come at Sydney's Sheraton on the Park on August 1 - The American Express National Restaurant Awards cabaret dinner to raise funds for the Malcom Sargrant Cancer Fund for Children.

Then he's eager to start writing more original music (he has co-written a song with his dad) and take on new directions.

"The next year will be about learning and growing up a bit more," Campbell says.

" I actually want to get back to acting, because blending that with singing is essentially what great singers do.

"No-one else but Sinatra can sing A Quarter to Three.

"You know the guys has been in a bar at a quarter to three and he's been depressed, and he's taking that part of his life and putting it on the stage."

"I probably relate most to that sort of underdog song. "My act is someone who's trying to fight the feeling rather than being stuck and unable to move.

"I've stayed in bed all day as much as anyone, and not been able to get up.

"Every part of my life is up for grabs, and that's what's so exciting about being in the field"


Catherine Lambert Reports Sydney Sunday Telegraph