Call Of The Wild

The last time David Campbell was in the Festival Theatre was 1990. he was a high-school student and he saw the State Opera's production of Aida. More than 10 years later, he will return to Adelaide's premiere theatre venue to headline a major musical about rock legend Johnny O'Keefe.

The 27-year-old, who has wowed critics from Sydney to New York, is playing the late JOK in Shout: The Legend of the Wild One. But as a boy growing up in Adelaide's northern suburbs, he rarely attended the Festival Theatre.

He wasn't interested in theatre and never expected a career on the stage.

"I would save my money and hang out with friends and go to the movies or something," he says. "I was a bit ignorant of theatre as a kid. I'd want to see rock bands and movies. If someone had told me when I was like, 16, that I would be doing shows off Broadway, I would have laughed in their face."

Although Campbell has performed in Adelaide before, Shout will be his first big show in a major venue.

"I can't wait to how it off to everybody, to all my friends and family: 'Look, look, this is really cool'. I feel like a kid in a candy store.
'Look, look what I've done'," he says.

After Campbell appeared in a school play - he attended Northfield High (now Ross Smith Secondary School, which honoured him in 1998 by naming its performing arts complex after him) - his drama teacher suggested he audition for the SA Youth Theatre Company, which he did successfully.

At age 19, he moved to Sydney, working for Sydney Theatre Company and Ensemble Theatre.

Campbell says that sonce then he has been trying to learn the craft of acting, without the advantages of attending an acting school.

"It's been like apprentice work," he says. "I've literally gone on the job and learnt, and been lucky enough along my road to so far to be able to work with great people - Jackie Weaver, Cameron Mackintosh...and that's not even including live performing with my dad on stage."

Campbell speaks much more freely about famous father rock singer Jimmy Barnes than he has in years gone by. "I've just found a different way of handling it. Probably it's grown to be a better relationship with the confidence that's grown in me. I think it's grown because we've got to know each other. We're like twins, you know. It's pretty crazy," he says.

Father and son often go to sit in the same seat, sing the same notes or stand in the same position on stage, says Campbell. "It's really very
strange; there's a lot to be said for genetics because, as you know, I wasn't brought up with him," he says.

Campbell, who was raised by his grandmother, didn't find out until he was 12 that Barnes was his father.

Now, with Shout playing in Sydney, he has "no fixed abode" and is "bunking down" with his dad in Vaucluse.

"We're doing more and more things together," he says. "He got on stage in Melbourne and did an encore of Shout! with the company. I didn't tell them. I just got him up on stage and the company was bowled over. He has asked me last week if he can come up again...I said 'Don't worry. I'll get you up soon'."

Campbell admits he didn't want to sing prfessionally earlier in his career because of the inevitable comparisons with his father. But at 22, his agent convinced him to sing and he made his way to New York, where he had lead roles in Stephen Sondheim's Saturday Night and Encore Productions' Babes in Arms.

In 1998, he won an Outstanding Vocalist Award at the Back Stage Bistro Awards (New York) for outstanding achievements in cabaret. In the same year he won Australia's Mo award as outstanding feature actor in a musical for his role as Marius in the 10th anniversary production of Les Miserables. Last May Campbell gave up his apartment in Battery Park, Manhattan, and his New York career to avoid being typecast in boy-next-door roles. He returned to Australia to chase a rock career.

"In my heart, I knew I wanted to do rock." he says. "I also knew that I am am 27 and I need to follow my heart. If I'm going to do it, I don't have much time. If I'm lucky enough to have the opportunities to do rock, my theatre experience will enhance my rock performance."

Campbell says it was a difficult decision to return to Australia with no work on the horizon but he soon scored the role of rock legend JOK - one way of reconciling his theatrical and cabaret experience with his rock ambitions: "I'm not going to lose any of my roots. I just want to stretch myself further before I go back to them...I try never to say never to anything.

Adelaide Advertiser - Monday April 9, 2001