Although he died at 37, Bobby Darin in his short turbulent life managed to make himself a household name with his on-stage charisma, his swinging songs, his string of hit records, and with his marriage to a screen sweetheart.
His story is the basis of Dream Lover – originally a play by Frank Howson and his cousin, John Michael Howson, but now transformed into an exuberant musical biography by Frank Howson, Simon Phillips and Carolyn Burns, who’ve added more than 40 songs, either written or made popular by Darin, to the sugar-coated dot-points of Darin’s short, turbulent life to come up with a highly polished show that is continuously entertaining, and even unexpectedly moving.
Simon Phillips certainly knows what makes a musical tick. His direction, both in the storytelling, the musical construction and the visual realisation, is impeccable. Many of the songs, cleverly re-arranged and orchestrated by Guy Simpson, are presented in medleys. Others are interpolated into the storyline so seamlessly that they could easily have been written for the show. Even Al Jolson’s Mammy gets a guernsey.
Tim Chappell’s colourful costumes and endless parade of wigs, provide clever indicators of the passage of time, while Andrew Hallsworth’s witty choreography allows the energy and personalities of the ensemble to shine through while cleverly capturing the delightful cheesiness of the nightclub and television dancing of the period.
Brian Thomson’s ‘Hollywood Bowl’ setting, which has Musical Director, Daniel Edmonds, conducting his taut, tight and terrific onstage big-band, seated at a baby grand throughout, magically transforms into a series of different nightclubs. Other interiors are indicated with appropriate furniture and props being whisked on and off as required, enhancing the already slick presentation as each scene blends into the next.
The role of Bobby Darin is huge, but David Campbell embraces every challenge with style and confidence, as if born to play it. From the moment he steps on to the stage in the stylishly staged Mack The Knife, until his final moment of self-recognition performing As Long As I’m Singing, Campbell commands the stage with a world-class performance that is truly dazzling.
He’s rarely off the stage, performing around 30 of the songs, ranging through rock ’n roll to romantic ballads… all superbly. He dances with panache in the production numbers and incorporates exactly the right combination of brashness and gravitas in his acting to be totally convincing in his romantic scenes, and affecting in the more emotional moments, particularly when he singing I’ll Be There to his young son, Dodd, following the breakup of his marriage to starlet, Sandra Dee.
Hannah Fredericksen also impresses with a lovely performance as actress, Sandra Dee, particularly in her unflinching depiction of Dee’s struggles with alcohol addiction as her own career begins to evaporate after her marriage to Darin.
Caroline O’Connor creates two memorable characterisations. Firstly, as Polly, Darin’s homely, ex-showgirl mother leading a bevy of feather-clad showgirls through Life’s a Funny Proposition After All. Later transforming into Darin’s sophisticated, sharp-tongued, mother-in-law, Mary.
Marney McQueen plays Darin’s sister, Nina, providing one of many memorable highlights when, following an announcement which drew audible gasps from the opening night audience, she and O’Connor sang a beautiful version of More bringing unsuspected depth to the familiar lyrics.
Bert Labonte as Darin’s father-in-law, Charlie, and Martin Crewes as his loyal and long-suffering agent, Steve Blauner, both contribute solid performances, with Crewes getting the opportunity to show off his song and dance skills sharing a terrific duet with Campbell in I’ve Got the World on a String.
If you’ve ever doubted that Australia has the skills and talent to rival Broadway in producing first rate musicals, then get yourself along to the Lyric to enjoy this outstanding production for yourself, not just for the engrossing story it tells, but also for the brilliant way it showcases many of our most outstanding performers and creatives. Dream Lover is scheduled for a relatively short season in the Sydney Lyric. Don’t miss it!
Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical
Sydney Lyric Theatre, Pirrama Road, Pyrmont
Performance: Thursday 6 October 2016
Season continues to 27 November 2016
For more information, visit: www.dreamlover.com.au for details.
Image: David Campbell stars as Bobby Darin in Dream Lover – photo by Brian Geach
Review: Bill Stephens