Making his Chicago debut as part of his first U.S. tour, Australian cabaret singer David Campbell is a young newcomer in a form for which age and experience are the usual criteria. The 24-year-old’s youth is evident in other ways besides his magazine-model looks. There’s an eagerness onstage that sometimes comes off as callowness, especially when he tries too hard to sell material he really doesn’t understand. Why anyone his age would sing “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” for example, is beyond me, and while it’s nice that he’s proud of his countryman Peter Allen, he lacks the over-the-top energy to pull off a whole medley of Allen’s cheesy showbiz anthems. But when Campbell stops pushing and honestly connects with a song, his brash but sensitive personality (somewhat reminiscent of the young James Cagney) is engaging and touching. With a pretty, quavery tenor that’s well balanced from its husky lows to its falsetto heights, he brings sincere thoughtfulness and a nice pop edge to the work of contemporary cabaret tunesmiths like John Bucchino, the late Brian Lasser, and Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire. And his medley of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You” and Sondheim’s “Not a Day Goes By” (deftly arranged by Campbell’s fine pianist Christopher Denny, last seen here as Karen Mason’s accompanist) reveals a knack for turning a soaring melody into a shyly halting confession that builds to exultant passion. His act is also distinguished by songs you’ll probably hear nowhere else, such as the tender “Only Heaven Knows”–the title number of a musical play he starred in down under–and “It Will Always Be You,” a Journey-like ballad in which he acknowledges the influence of his father, Aussie rocker Jimmy Barnes. With one CD on the market (Yesterday Is Now from Philips Classics) and another due out next month (Taking the Wheel on the same label), Campbell is a significant talent with a promising future. Friday and Saturday and next Friday and Saturday, August 15 and 16, 9 and 11 PM, and Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, Toulouse Cognac Bar, 2140 Lincoln Park West; 773-665-9071. ALBERT WILLIAMS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.