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by Michael Portantiere

David Campbell: Take Two

  • David Campbell On Broadway.jpg

    In the mid '90s, David Campbell hit New York like fireworks launched from Australia, making a big splash in the cabaret world and snaring lead roles in the long delayed NYC premiere of Stephen Sondheim's early musical Saturday Night and the City Center Encores! production of Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms. But it seemed like David was only here for a flash before he headed back home to Oz, where he starred in several shows including Les Misérables and a jukebox musical called Shout. (He also got married, and he and his wife had their first child in June.)

    Now, he's back doing stuff stateside, having recorded a terrific new album for Sony's Masterworks Broadway label -- with a symphony-size orchestra conducted by Rob Fisher, thank you very much -- and with gigs set up at the Catalina Jazz Club in L.A., The Rrazz Room in San Francisco, and Feinstein's at Loews Regency right here in NYC. I recently chatted him up about his return to the U.S.


    BROADWAYSTARS: The CD is fantastic, David, and the song from Catch Me If You Can is a knockout.

    DAVID CAMPBELL: Isn't that fun? It really has a straight-off-the-page feel. The whole score is like that. Rob Fisher and I had a lot of ideas about the album; we ultimately decided that we'd draw a line in the sand at Oklahoma!, which seemed the logical thing to do. I really wanted to start with "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'!" and end with a new song. I didn't think Lloyd Webber was going to return my calls, but somebody said, "Do you know Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman?" I knew Scott a little bit, so it was suggested that I email him about Catch Me If You Can. I said, "I don't know if he's gonna remember me. 'Hi, I'm this funny little guy from Australia, and I'd love it if you would let me preview one of the songs from your show.'" But Scott and Marc sent me a recording of a few songs, and when Rob and I heard "Goodbye," we thought it was just perfect for the album.

    STARS: Well, I can't wait to hear the rest of the score. That song is a highlight of the CD, but it has so many other killer tracks. It's great to hear your take on "Proud Lady" from The Baker's Wife, and it's interesting because Stephen Schwartz has reworked that song substantially over the years.

    DAVID: Thanks. Stephen told me that this is the first recording of the finalized version. He really wanted to have it recorded.

    STARS: I noticed that you made the very brave choice of singing "Bring Him Home" from Les Miz not in head voice -- except at the very end -- but with a chestier tone.

    DAVID: You're one of the few people who have picked up on that. I don't know why I sang it that way. I think I wanted to make it more of a strong plea to God rather than a quiet prayer -- sort of, "You'd better bring him home!"

    STARS: Another great track is "When I Get My Name in Lights" from Legs Diamond. If someone else hadn't gotten there first, would you have liked to play Peter Allen on stage?

    DAVID: It's hard to follow someone as attractive as Hugh Jackman, isn't it? The Boy From Oz started out in Australia, but as a young Australian, I didn't have much awareness of Peter. It wasn't until I came to New York in the '90s and started doing shows at Eighty-Eights down in the Village that I realized how important he was to you guys. So I started to explore his songs, and now I think he was a brilliant performer and songwriter. "When I Get My Name in Lights" is one of my favorite songs on the album, and I think one of the best arrangements by Bill Elliot.

    STARS: How did you choose the repertoire for the album?

    DAVID: I didn't want to it to be a traditional leading-man record -- you know, "Here's me singing this, here's me singing that. Don't I sound terrific in this role? I can do them all!" I just love classic shows; it doesn't matter who wrote them or when they were written. I love The Pajama Game, and Carousel is one of my top musicals, but I also love Catch Me If You Can. I made my name in a jukebox musical in Australia, but I really love a new score that has a musical through-line.

    STARS: Have you already played any of the roles represented on the CD?

    DAVID: I did Billy in Carousel in Australia. That was one of the best moments I've ever had on stage. I've also done Bobby in Company and Sky in Guys and Dolls there. I love those shows.

    STARS: This is a somewhat awkward question, but here goes: Did you not stick around longer in New York on your first sojourn here because you felt things weren't happening as fast as you might have wanted?

    DAVID: No, it was almost the opposite. I felt I wasn't emotionally prepared for everything that was happening. It was a great honor to work with Stephen Sondheim and to be given all those other opportunities, but I wasn't enjoying it as much as I should have -- and I knew there was something wrong with that. I came to New York on a whim in the '90s to do some cabaret, but I hadn't planned on making a career here. I wasn't ready for what was being offered, and it took me a long time to catch up with it. I thought I needed to go home and fix myself, otherwise I might have started to make bad choices and do things that would have been more destructive than just leaving. I had to sort myself out, and I think it worked. I just needed grounding for a few years, to get back to friends and family in Australia. I felt very isolated in New York, and again, I just wasn't ready for what was being thrown my way.

    STARS: There's no law that says you have to have a career in the U.S., but are you thinking in those terms now?

    DAVID: Recording the album with Rob in L.A., and talking with people like John Kander for a documentary we did about the album, made me realize that the hunger never died. Frankly, I think I'm a better performer now than I was years ago; I'm vocally better, and of course I've lived more. One should get better with age, and I think it's important to stay hungry. My father [singer Jimmy Barnes] is in his fifth decade of touring and being the number one artist in this country, but he's still hungry. That's what I aspire to.

    STARS: Of course, part of the reason why you made such a strong impression here in the '90s was that you were so talented and so polished at such a young age. But needless to say, if you couldn't handle it emotionally, it's a good thing you realized that and did what you had to do, rather than just burning out.

    DAVID: Absolutely!

    [For more information on David Campbell's November 28-December 2 stint at Feinstein's click here]

    Published on Monday, November 22, 2010

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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