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Dream Lover dazzles

by Julie Houghton

Rarely have I attended an opening night when the standing ovation on all three levels of the State Theatre was as heartfelt and sincere as the one given on New Year’s Eve in Melbourne to Dream Lover, the new musical about the life of singer Bobby Darin.

From the opening  with the razzle-dazzle choreographyof the chorus surrounding star David Campbell as Bobby Darin, singing the classic Mack the Knife, to the closing curtain, the energy never flagged and the audience was entranced.

If start as you mean to continue was the message from director Simon Phillips, then he achieved his aim of giving us a truly spectacular show that had feet tapping from the beginning, hearts stopping during the tense serious bits of the action, and the audience chuckling appreciatively at the humour.

The talented creative team who took the story from page to screen included writers Frank and John Michael Howson, director Phillips and dramaturg wife Carolyn Burns, are to be applauded – I don’t recall seeing such a successful and crowd pleasing new Australian musical since The Boy From Oz – and here’s hoping that Dream Lover will soon make its way to Broadway.

Darin’s story was one of remarkable achievement and defying the odds, as a childhood sufferer of rheumatic fever with doctors predicted he wouldn’t live past 16. While his death at 37 was far too young, he had managed another 30-odd years of life to defy the medical predictions. And he packed more into his 37 years than most of us do in a lifetime.

Dream Lover totally engages its audience, and the major credit must go to its star David Campbell as Darin. Campbell has always had natural stage charisma, and he uses this to brilliant effect in Dream Lover. He has a killer voice and can dance and act, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking on the mantle of Darin the way Campbell does.

It’s an exhausting show for him, as he sings in more than 30 of the show’s musical numbers, and is on stage most of the night. My hat goes off to his team of back stage dressers – Campbell managed incredible off-stage costume changes that had him back on stage always in less than a minute, often in about 30 seconds.

Dream Lover is a baby boomer’s delight, with the multitude of upbeat and familiar songs, including Multiplication, Splish Splash, Beyond the Sea, and obviously the title track. There are simply too many memorable songs to list here, but that’s a big part of audience engagement, and Campbell knows how to woo the paying customers.

Great support was provided from two mature music theatre stars, Marina Prior and Martin Crewes.
Prior shows her versatility and ability to reinvent herself from the operatic ingénue who hit the Melbourne stage more than 30 years ago in Pirates of Penzance.
She plays two roles that give her plenty of scope to use her considerable acting talent, as well as her vocal chops, as she portrays Darin’s warm and worldly mother Polly (spoiler alert – part of the show’s drama comes from Darin discovering Polly was his grandmother, not his mother). Then she slips easily into the hard-bitten stage mother character as Mary, Sandra Dee’s mother. Quite simply, Prior knows her stuff and her scenes with Campbell are a delight.

Martin Crewes as Darin’s manager Steve imbues his character with a good heart, frustration at dealing with his high-profile client and a genuine love for and support of Darin. Their camaraderie is one of the great pairings of the show, due in no small part to Crewes’ fine talents as a polished music theatre performer.

As Nina, Darin’s sister/mother, Marney McQueen brings a lovely pathos to her scenes with Darin, and is another vocal delight. As Nina’s husband Charlie, Rodney Dobson shows his many years on music theatre stages, bringing a fine portrayal and some lovely blokey interplay with Campbell. Hannah Fredericksen is an affecting Sandra Dee and a good complement to Campbell’s Darin.And there’s a nice natural performance from juvenile Hudson Sharp as young Bobby and the mature Bobby’s son.

The hard working chorus constantly delivers, and the globe-lit bandstand set is shared by the excellent big band, conducted by Guy Simpson, and the cast. Some nimble footwork is required here but the action is always seamless.

There are really only three words you need to heed about Dream Lover – don’t miss it!


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