THIS SPECTACULAR stage musical is the latest in a distinguished line of jukebox musicals created by Australians and it has far and away the best song list.
It also benefits from a tour-de-force performance by Australia’s David Campbell, who scarcely leaves the stage. This confirms Campbell has to be one of the leading musical theatre performers of his generation and if the show ever makes it to Broadway, they’d be mad not to consider him to reprise the role.
To be sure, “Shout”, “The Boy from Oz, and “Dusty” featured fabulous popular songs, but “Dream Lover” draws on the entire American Songbook. For, contrary to the view of an overwhelmed patron who asked me: “Did you know he wrote almost all the songs in the show?”, Darin’s own songs are in the minority, although there’s much fun to be had with his early rock number “Splish-splash” and the title song “Dream Lover”, delivered in a tender moment with Darin’s new wife, film star Sandra Dee.
The real-life story of Bobby Darin is, as the adage goes, stranger than fiction, a rags-to-riches story of a boy with a heart condition who makes it to the very top, marries a film star and then dies aged 37, living on through a series of extraordinary jazz interpretations. It’s a gift to the writers, but maybe too much of a gift.
For music rather than drama is the essence of this show, which features an upstage big band team led by musical director, former Canberran Daniel Edmonds.
Through Edmonds, Campbell and this crack team, we are presented with a night of sumptuous musical delights – “Mammy”, “Mack the Knife”, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, “Call Me Irresponsible”, “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”, to name a few we know Darin didn’t write.
A simply beautiful rendition of the Arlen/Mercer number “Come Rain Or Come Shine” exemplifies the sensitive way these songs were used by the creators of “Dream Lover”, so that, with the exception of Tim Hardin’s “If I were a Carpenter”, the songs were perfectly integrated into the text. I would also question the taste of the show-stopping tribute to Bobby Kennedy, possibly a step too far.
Simon Phillips as director and Andrew Hallsworth, using his trademark style of sharp, angular choreography have manoeuvred a substantial cast through the chronological story, roughly divided into childhood, the route to rock ‘n’ roll, Vegas, Hollywood, on tour, Copacabana, the slippery slide and Darin’s artistic renaissance.
The set is a classical Brian Thomson creation that conjures up Darin’s life dream to perform at the Copacabana, and giving the whole a finished look that leaves a lot of recent musicals for dead.
The principal actors are remarkably convincing, with Caroline O’Connor playing Darin’s mum (or is she?) and (less successfully) Dees’ mum too, Marney McQueen, especially convincing as sister/mother Nina, Hannah Fredricksen as Sandra Dee, Bert La Bonte as his brother in law Charlie, Martin Crews as manager Steve Blauer and a line-up of young performers as playing the young Bobby and his son Dodd (who was in the audience).
The next step for this musical is surely an international production, but it’s my guess is that it will be pulled back a bit. The creators clearly wanted to tell the whole story instead of attacking late and finishing early, meaning that we experience a surfeit of delights. If “Dream Lover” shows up on Broadway any time soon, it will probably be a lot tighter.