When my family first heard a stage musical based on the life of Bobby Darin was in the works, there was only one man we could imagine successfully taking on the role. That man was David Campbell. We knew he’d be impressive, but I don’t think we were quite prepared for just how good he would be.
Dream Lover really is David Campbell’s show. His Bobby Darin is a presence in virtually every scene, and he shines throughout. We’re first introduced in Bobby on the night of what would be his final performance. I’ve seen David perform the opening number “Mack the Knife” several times over the years, but with back-up dancers and a tight orchestra (who are celebrated on stage rather than buried in the pit as in so many musicals) the song reaches another level.
From there we’re taken on a journey through Bobby’s life. We see him as a child with stars in his eyes, as a hard-working rock-and-roll singer, and as the toast of Hollywood with Sandra Dee on his arm. We’ve seen this kind of rags-to-riches tale before, but most musicals tend to shy away from the darkness Dream Lover isn’t afraid to explore. Bobby Darin’s stellar catalogue of beloved music ensures the show doesn’t get too gloomy.
Stepping into Bobby Darin’s shoes is no small feat. This is the Bobby Darin story after all. This character isn’t always likeable, yet there must be a charm about him that helps us forgive his unrelenting ambition. He sings, he dances, and he gives the production its anchor. David makes all this look easy, as the very best stage performers do. I’ve long admired his vocal chops, but I didn’t realise how impressive his acting skills are.
Special mention must go to Caroline O’Connor, a stage veteran who took on the dual roles of Polly and Mary Douvan with aplomb. Hannah Fredericksen brought the right amount of sweetness and strength to her portrayal of Sandra Dee and Bert Labonte was also excellent in the role of Charlie, a paternal figure to Bobby.
Sydney is lucky enough to have the world premiere of Dream Lover, although I’m sure it will tour around Australia in time. And after that, who knows? This musical is certainly solid enough to leave the country and grace the stages of Broadway or the West End. However, unless David Campbell commits to taking the role abroad, I can’t imagine it’ll be as good as the original Australian production!
Dream Lover is playing at the Lyric Theatre until at least November 27.