On a return to New York City and Feinstein's at Loews Regency after a long stay in his native Australia, David Campbell opened a sizzling, dazzling, razzmatazzling act with Peter Allen's "When I Get My Name in Lights." How cunning of him to toot a rousing ditty by the original Boy From Oz as a signal that the next boite-shaking Boy From Oz is back and again ready to do Peter Allen duty stateside.
The 5'7" or 5'8" bundle of dynamite in a shiny three-piece suit went even further in presenting his credentials. With only two interruptions to establish his pop cred -- the Rascals's "How Can I Be Sure?" and the Wayne Newton-identified "Danke Shoen"--he put together a program dictated by "On Broadway," his new CD. He certainly wants the disc and his live recreation of it to be seen as an audition for the leading-man role in just about any musical ever written or about to be written. Back home, he's already played many of the classic characters and can surely do so here.
The shrewd entertainer followed his starting gambit with "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II Oklahoma kick-off tune that in 1943 instantly signaled a new dawn for the musical. Before he called it quits with the poignant "Some Other Time" by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green and Betty Comden and from On the Town, he demonstrated his believability as virile Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls with Frank Loesser's "Luck, Be a Lady," as ultra-virile Sid Sorokin with "Hey There" from the Jerry Ross-Richard Alder Pajama Game, as feckless Bobby in the Stephen Sondheim Company with "Being Alive," as cocky legal-eagle Billy Flynn in the John Kander-Fred Ebb Chicago and as long-suffering Jean Valjean with "Bring Him Home" from the Claude-Michel Schonberg-Alain Boublil-Herbert Kreutzmer Les Miserables.
The lad even mustered contagious pizzazz for a Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman item called "Goodbye" from the Great White Way-bound Catch Me If You Can. On the other hand, he sang nothing from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, although he apparently has already seen it and didn't stop himself from making a few naughty comments about the only-just-previewing Julie Taymor extravaganza.
But naughtiness is part of Campbell's make-up. His shameless auditioning at the lowered-price (manageable $25 cover) Feinstein's was couched -- to his great credit -- in a presentation during which he also showed unflagging cabaret mettle. Start to finish, he behaves as if he'd been born to the stage.
He sorta was. He mentioned his Australia celebrity rock-singing dad (not by name: Jimmy Barnes) and even pointed out he's only one of his sire's illegitimate off-spring and, as a result, was raised by his mother's show-tune-loving mom. You could say there's nothing he doesn't feel comfortable confiding from a podium. Campbell also recalled working with 80th-birthday-boy Stephen Sondheim. His only long-running Manhattan stage appearance was in the great man's Saturday Night, although, curiously, he included nothing from that precocious score.
Anyway, you gotta love a guy who can give a warm treatment to the Rodgers-Lorenz Hart "My Funny Valentine" and later spice up the already spicy "Begin the Beguine," for which Cole Porter broke all song-writing molds in the 1935 Jubilee. Campbell breaks a few more in a drums-and-percussion-only arrangement so ear-popping the only proper response is awe. Rex Benincasa did the supporting work and was also tasty throughout, along with pianist-musical director Christopher Denny, bassist Jered Egan and Kevin Kuhn on guitar and banjo.
When David Campbell first worked local boulevards in the late '90s and early aughts, he was a sensation, a personality in the audience-wowing tradition of Al Jolson. He's back now, and anyone interested in what a singer can do energizing a crowd has to hope he sticks around this time. In other words, catch him if you can.
Incidentally, Campbell is at Feinstein's in an unusual late-show booking. On the first two of his five nights, he was preceded by Ashley Brown, who gained whatever notoriety she has as Mary Poppins in the New York Mary Poppins. Interestingly, she smiled all the way through the blockbuster Disney production, whereas author P. L. Travers's nanny hardly ever smiled, she was that stern with her charges. Yet, Brown does seem to possess a vestigial Mary P. quality blended into her many elements for small-room success -- trained voice, appealing personality, great looks, great legs shooting out from a great short-skirt dress and ending in today's sine qua non Christian Louboutin shoes.
That quality, though, is something not necessarily beneficial for Feinstein's or similar venues: restraint. Though she mostly sang show songs with charm, sweetness and, when appropriate, tartness, she never entirely let go. It may be that, a relative novice in these surroundings, she's not certain which way to proceed -- nor does it look was if she has a director guiding her -- and so is only now feeling her way towards who she wants to be in these situations. She deserves to figure it out.