There’s something daggy about David Campbell, a bit squat and try-hard, but by the end of his new show, Wild With Style, he’s earned every bit of his applause.
This generous performer sings, leaps and sweats his way through an astonishing range of other people’s songs, from Broadway to ballads, pop classics to rock, via gospel and blues.
Backed by a big band, strong with brass and double bass, Campbell has us finally spinning almost as much as he.
Certainly his acting talents help him leap from one song and genre to another. Campbell has another accomplished career as an actor in musicals, over the last years mostly in Melbourne with Guys And Dolls, Carousel and, most recently, Sunset Boulevard. In fact in this show, David Campbell does everything except risk standing still and just being himself.
Take Bojangles by his mentor Sammy Davis Jr. Donning a tramp’s old bowler, Campbell sings it beautifully but he acts out every line: effectively, yes, but with too much detail pegging back the wide arc and reach of the song.
His strength lies mostly in the cabaret songs that marked his first success in Sydney and then New York, and those hits of his other inspiration, Bobby Darin. His Mack The Knife is superb, as is Bring Him Home from his time in Les Mis?bles, and Shout from his role as Johnny O’Keefe.
Perhaps it’s the influence of his old rocker dad, Jimmy Barnes, but young David has been on the run stylistically from those first days as a pretty boy crooner.
Now drawing on the likes of Prince and Springsteen, Campbell halfway in this show swaps the silver suit for the singlet and spins up quite a rock concert.
Director Dein Perry, from Tap Dogs, backs Campbell with a well paced build-up of showmanship and band skills, and Amanda Davis is strong as backing vocalist.
Campbell too has a good audience rapport as we sing our bits with growing abandonment. He even promises to spend the whole night with us, with all of us.
But still something is lacking. What’s not there is sex appeal, a raw truth of communication which comes from performers not just working their butts off, but letting us in to share something truly personal, even vulnerable.
Of course like most of us Campbell just wants to be adored, and occasionally this peeks through. He’s at his most truthful singing You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.
David Campbell -“ Wild With Style is at the Sydney Opera House until Saturday 29 April.