David Campbell is a multi-platinum selling artist and one of Australia’s most popular and hardworking performers. He sits down to chat with Australian Stage Online and Michael Bingham just before he embarks on an extensive national tour.

David CampbellCan you tell us about your new touring concert show Beyond Broadway Tour?
This is more than an extension on the On Broadway show. I have done a lot of extensive tours throughout New South Wales and regional Queensland, far North Qld. I have never really toured through rural Victoria, WA and rural NSW. It’s a kind of meeting point for me and the audience. It’s an introduction for a lot of people. Some people are coming back. And I know others have travelled a long way to see my shows. Unfortunately we won’t have the orchestra, but for me it's about getting out there and being amongst the people.

The new show has all sorts of inspirations from On Broadway, The Swing Sessions, Good Lovin and Shout. It’s a real combination. We’ve got some cabaret songs thrown in there too. A real getting to know me show.

You encompass so many different music styles. Have you always aimed to be versatile or is it because you have so many interests?
It was more curiosity than anything that inspires me. There’s no master plan really. I always loved versatile performers like Peter Allen, Sammy Davis Jr, Bobby Darrin. Even up to Bruce Springsteen. People who take risks and do things differently. Release albums that are very successful, then choose to do something they want to do, knowing that it may not be as successful. It’s kind of what we did with the Broadway album. It has not been as successful as the other albums. It’s strange how it all works out.

And it excites me more than just doing the same thing over and over again. Very early on, when doing the swing stuff, I thought there was a lot of swing going on at that time. There was myself and obviously Mr Buble and a couple of young guys who are swingers. And I thought organically my show was moving into more entertainment and taking on some more sixties stuff and that’s how Good Lovin came on.

Where did the inspiration to do swing come from?
The swing came from all the stuff I was doing in New York. When I was doing the Rainbow & Stars and The Carlisle, I was getting into Bobby Darin and Sammy Davis Jr. Those guys appeal to me – even though Frank has always been the cool one and Bing’s always been the romantic.

I love people laughing and having a good time and being excited by numbers. I like going out there and grabbing an audience. Peter Allen did the same thing. I had been doing a lot of that stuff like Mack the Knife and Mr Bojangles a decade before I recorded them in New York. They were well honed by the time I got to record them.

Can you talk about your first Broadway experience?
For some reason it became exciting because a young Australian guy was doing cabaret in the Village. It was a very lucky time. I got an Agent. I signed with William Morris and got a publicist. I got signed to Rainbow & Stars, the youngest act ever on their books. And it was very exciting and there was a real push for me towards theatre. They knew I had done theatre in Australia. It was exciting. I did a lot of auditions. I did workshops, including Throughly Modern Millie. I did the Sondheim piece (Saturday Night) and Babes In Arms (as part of the Encore! concert series). Heaps of workshops, meetings and gigs. It was such an incredible learning experience. I think it planted the desire in me to always wanting to do a Broadway album.

Just like doing cabaret for all the hours that went into the big band Swing album. I didn’t want to do a small album. Same with the Broadway album. I wanted to do something epic with a big 40 piece orchestra. We recorded in LA at the East/West studios, where Sinatra recorded My Way. Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys) was recorded next door. It’s one of the last great studio spaces you can use, outside a Hollywood Studio. Because of the cost of the orchestra, I only had two days to record it.

With the amount of theatre you have done, how did you choose the repertoire for the Broadway album?
We worked out very quickly that I didn’t want it to be a leading man album, singing the hits of Broadway. I think that was overdone. And I was kinda sick of the big glossy special, you know, someone like Julie Andrews standing in front of the red curtain saying how amazing Broadway was, but not really telling us why. And what makes it tick. We were also filming a documentary, and I thought we could interview the guys that are still alive and ask why they do this. I thought if we could take a deeper look, we might be able to get a look behind the red curtain and about what makes it happen.

With that in mind Rob Fisher (producer) and I thought that maybe it should be like a Broadway show. And at first there was going to be an overture. The leading character comes out and sings a couple of songs. We were going to have a chorus. And we were going to have a leading lady. They were going to fall in love, break up and then get back together. But in the middle of that I was going to do a bunch of songs. And we thought (laughs) that’s too complicated a concept. Even for a concept album. We were conceptualizing ourselves out of the room!

But in the end, I liked the progression that it felt like a show. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. We wanted to choose songs that were interesting to us, as opposed to just doing a musical bonanza. I wanted to choose a Sondheim song (Being Alive) from Company, and it was relevant to what I had done but also add Oh What A Beautiful Morning. Because that’s song signaled a change of how people were writing properly for guys in music theatre. Oklahoma was a great place to draw a line in the sand and say “We’ll go from there”. Then my idea was to get something from the future and we lucked out when we got Goodbye from (the new musical) Catch Me If You Can. I didn’t know anyone from Lloyd Webber’s camp at the time. So I contacted Matt Scott and was able to record Til I Hear You Sing (from Love Never Dies).

Did the On Broadway project allow you to record some songs you always wanted to?
Well, yeah. Luck Be A Lady was one. Though I have done Guys & Dolls here (in Melbourne) with The Production Company. And I will never get to play Peter Allen because it’s firmly Todd McKenney’s. Also I am not a Peter Allen type. Except I’m quite camp (laughs). But my favourite song of his was always When I Get My Lights. And even though we did Some Other Time which is a chorus song from On The Town, I love the arrangement on The Tony Bennett Bill Evans Album (1975) and it was an influential album as a singer for me and I go back it to a lot. So my version was an ode to that.

And we also wanted to touch on all the great composers. I think the only one we didn’t get was Gershwin. Everyone does Gershwin. And we didn’t do an Irving Berlin. I wanted to do a song from Call Me Madam but I left it too late to make it happen.

With your vast experience on stage, why did the On Broadway album happen last year?
The record company (Sony Music) have faith in me to say, “What do you want to do next?” We had done The Swing Sessions 1 & 2. Then we did Good Loving, which did extremely well and we were lucky. So they said, “Why do we do Good Lovin 2?” And I said “That’s what they are expecting us to do. How about I do a Broadway album and do it properly? I’ll do a big tour and a documentary.” I was just talking through my hat. And they said okay we’ll let you do it. It’s the trust that Sony Music have put in me after doing a few albums that were successful.

I’d left my Management who’d I been with for ten years. My wife Lisa and I decided to self manage as Luckiest Productions.
Lisa said, you’re mad, it’s too much work. But we did it. After we committed to everything, we found it was too much work because we got pregnant at the beginning of the process. But it was the only time I could do it. And there’s a possibility of going through Asia with it now. It’s got a life of its own. Even though it was Top Ten here, it didn’t sell as much as the Swing Sessions or Good Loving. It did very well though. And it was what I always wanted to do. I’d grown up watching Warlow do it. Thinking wouldn’t it be amazing to do that. It was always in the back of my head. I’ve always had these concepts in the back of my head that if I had the… power (I guess) to do something, I’d like to do it properly. I didn’t want it to be shit. I didn’t want it to be half arsed. And I knew I wanted to do it in America because those people play it, grew up with it and were born into it. I wanted to be in the heart of it. The arranger I got (Bill Elliott) was incredible.

When you are performing a song in a concert setting, which is like a monologue from a show, do you approach it as the character?
In the Broadway show I set up a lot of things because I didn’t want to assume people knew (for eg) Sunday In The Park With George which is very obscure, unless you’re a big Sondheim fan. Sometimes I would take the mickey out of the show. Sometimes I would tell the story to put myself in the scene. The level of commitment to the character varied from song to song, It was easier to fall into a character like Billy Bigelow (Carousel) but with Luck Be A Lady, you can be a bit more free with it and connect with the audience a bit more. Make it more of a performance number, rather than a theatre number. I wanted people to have a great time. Music is still a very visceral experience. I wanted it to be very entertaining as well as informative.

So in the midst of all this you have your last season as Adelaide Cabaret Festival Director coming up.
Yes and it’s going to be bigger than before. We have really reached for the stars in our last festival before Kate (Ceberano) takes over. We have assembled Grammy winners and people who have sold hundreds of millions of albums and songwriters from around the world. We have got to a level we always wanted to reach. It’s now the biggest of its kind in the world. And the world wants to come to us. We had the gift of Bernadette (Peters) setting us up the first year. A wonderful thing for her to do for us. Then the deal with Natalie Cole in the second year and the world wanted to start to be involved more and more. There are more international acts than ever this year. It’s far more of an international festival.

Will you be taking Broadway and Beyond to Adelaide?
No. My focus is totally festival directing. It was only in the first year that I did a show with my dad. And I get up now and then and sing something.

Is there a distinction between your cabaret and concerts?
I treat my concerts, whether they are in Melbourne or at the Opera House or the GPAC theatre or a cabaret venue all the same. Right or wrong, I like to talk to the audience and do a song, share a story or do a few gags and then do another song. It will always be cabaret in a way to me. Even when I was to doing rock and pop to nobody after Shout and touring around, I’d still be talking on stage in the middle of it. It’s crazy. Cabaret has that element of communication that  has always been an important part of what I do. My shows will always be set up like that. And I love a chat! I love chatting to an audience and l love it when they chat back. That interaction makes it more alive and more personal to the crowd so every night is different. As opposed to going in the ‘big theatre or arena direction’ and have a script and every night just insert the city name with the same jokes every night. Sometimes I’ll go on a tangent for at least ten minutes (laughs). Anyone can get a serve or it can go anywhere. But it’s more fun that way. It’s more exciting and it keeps it fresh for us as a band.

And you dipped have your toe into a bit of morning television. How was that?
I really enjoyed being Larry Emdur’s understudy (on The Morning Show). First of all, it’s a really wonderful job. Nice work if you can get it. Brilliant fun. Live television is kind of dangerous. It appeals to me because of my live work anyway. But the first twenty minutes of the show are bang, bang, bang! Someone’s talking in your ear. You’re throwing questions out there. You’re throwing your own questions in there. You’ve got a little bit of script. And then someone else comes on set. You are doing four or five major stories in the first twenty minutes. It looks so smooth on tv, but it’s frenetic when you’re there.

The first time I did it I turned to Kylie Gillies during the ad break and said “I think I’m literally sweating over here”. And she said “Oh yeah. It’s really intense.” We lost a feed to the US and had to change and chop it up on the spot. Kylie was so incredibly together and the consummate professional with that wonderful news background that she’s got. She was just amazing.

What was it like taking On Broadway to Broadway?
It was good getting back there. They want us back in 2012 to do another season. Cause I booked out for this year and so were they. Taking it back to New York was great. I had the composers of Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can in. I think John Bucchino and a couple of other friends came in. It was a bit of an experiment because I hadn’t played there for eight years, so they gave me the late night spot after Michael (Fienstein). They had never done a late night spot before. I like doing the late night spot, cos it’s like “if this doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter! If this doesn’t work, I can move on.” And we sold really well. So we are being given a mainstream spot next year.

Isn’t there a limited time for these earlier mainstream shows?
It’s a sixty minute show. Yes, and I know… with all that talking I do! But I’ll be on time. If I do the early show I’ll behave. I’ve done it before.

Broadway and Beyond, starring David Campbell opens April 8, 2011 at The Palms at Crown, Melbourne, before embarking on a national tour. Further details»

The 2011 Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from 10 – 25 June, 2011. Further details»

Image credit:-
Top right - David Campbell. Photo - Pierre Baroni

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