In just over three weeks, Sydneysiders will have their first opportunity to see the world premiere production of Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical.
Dream Lover tells the story of Darin, the legendary American singer, songwriter and entertainer who shot to fame in the 50s and 60s with hits such as ‘Mack The Knife’, ‘Beyond the sea’ and ‘Splish Splash’. Darin also won a Golden Globe Award for his first film role in Come September, in which he appeared opposite his first wife, Sandra Dee.
For writers Frank Howson and John-Michael Howson, it’s taken nine years of hard work to prepare Bobby Darin’s story for the stage. The world premiere production stars multi-Helpmann Award winner, David Campbell, as Bobby Darin and is directed by one of Australia’s most respected and highly accomplished theatre directors, Simon Phillips.
Last Tuesday, one week into the rehearsal period, members of the media were invited along for their first sneak peak of the show and, of course, Theatre People was there to catch up with cast members to find out how it’s all going.
Playing the dual roles of Polly, Bobby Darin’s mother, and Mary Douvan, Sandra Dee’s mother, is one of Australia’s most successful music theatre stars on the international stage, Caroline O’Connor, who returns from the United States, having just originated the role of Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch in another brand new musical, Anastasia.
“I’m going back to do [Anastasia] on Broadway,” O’Connor tells Theatre People, the show now set to open at New York’s Broadhurst Theatre on April 24 next year.
O’Connor was last seen on Australian stages in her Helpmann Award-winning performance as Reno Sweeney in the Opera Australia/John Frost production of Anything Goes. She’s excited to have the opportunity to be back in Australia to take part in this world premiere project.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” she says of Dream Lover. “I think it has a global future because of the subject matter, which makes it even more exciting.”
O’Connor counts herself as a long-time fan of singers like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Jack Jones and Bobby Darin.
“There was no doubt that, apart from them having fabulous voices, they were entertainers. They had that extra something. They knew how to work an audience, and it really is about that, when it comes to live stage performance.”
She also says there’s a great story to be told about Darin on stage.
“It’s an incredible story,” O’Connor says. “To think that he achieved so much and then died so young… He did [TV show] This is your life when he was 23… He was beyond his years. I love the fact that everyone gets to find out more about him and his family life.”
As a child, Darin suffered significant health issues. Several bouts of rheumatic fever are said to have permanently damaged his heart. But according to O’Connor, those issues never dampened his ambitions.
“Nothing would stop him,” she says. “He was just so determined to plough ahead, and I find that kind of perseverance and strength really fascinating – that ‘never give in’ tenacity… I admire that, and I must say that that is really seared in the show. You really learn that [for] his entire life, he’s had to fight this… and he’s gone, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to live life to the full’.”
O’Connor is thrilled to be reunited on Dream Lover with Simon Phillips.
“I’ve never done a musical with Simon before. I’ve done two plays with him, but I’ve never done musicals [with him],” she tells Theatre People.
“He’s such fun. He’s very informed, of course. He turns up and he knows everything about the piece and what’s supposed to happen, but… there’s a lot of laughter in the room and you just feel like you’re in safe hands.”
She speaks of Phillips’ high attention to detail.
“He’s always so interested in every element… Some people will let the costume people get on with the costumes and they’ll let the music department get on with the music, but he’s always there… He’s involved in every single element, and I love that about him – that he cares as much about your wig as you and the wig department do, he cares as much about every element. I adore him for that.”
O’Connor also praises choreographer Andrew Hallsworth with whom she’s also worked in the past.
“I admire him so much. He’s one of my top three choreographers because I think he’s so great with storytelling with steps. It’s a joy to watch his work. You just want to get up and do it.”
Joining O’Connor on stage, playing the role of Sandra Dee, is Hannah Fredericksen. Dream Lover will be Fredericksen’s first time taking on a principal role in a major music theatre production.
“She’s perfect, she really is,” O’Connor says of her co-star. “She’s just been plucked out of another era and popped in. She’s fabulous.”
And according to O’Connor, Fredericksen and Campbell are well paired.
“They’re great together. There’s a lovely chemistry, which is so important,” she says.
Fredericksen is excited to be the first artist to play Sandra Dee in the first outing of Dream Lover.
“It’s incredible,” she says. “It’s one of those things that I think every performer hopes they will get the chance to do within their career, and I’m just pinching myself every day that I get to do it at the beginning and to be in such safe hands with Simon Phillips and our wonderful creative team.
“There’s not really anything as exciting as an actor, I think, [as] getting to put your mark on something… I’m really honoured, very excited and terrified, but more excited than anything!”
She talks about the level of familiarity she had with Darin’s work prior to becoming a part of the cast.
“I grew up knowing a lot of Bobby’s music, but not knowing that it was Bobby Darin,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about his story, his life or him as a person. But we listened to songs like ‘Beyond the sea’ in my house… And I think that’s one of the interesting things about him and the show, is that there’s so many songs [that] people know the words to, they recognise, but they think it’s Frank Sinatra.”
She continues: “Bobby had a string of hits. It wasn’t until I auditioned for this show that I started to realise how many of those songs were his and, of course, then what an interesting and remarkable, troubled kind of life he had.”
Like O’Connor, Fredericksen speaks to the strong story that there is to be told in Dream Lover.
“It’s kind of a dream for a jukebox musical because the music is obviously so fabulous, but without a story to go with it, you just have a concert,” Fredericksen says.
“When you read the script, there’s bombshell after bombshell. It’s unbelievable. And also, he only lived until [he was] 37, so all of this has happened in this short life, and he knew that there was a time limit on his life. He was told that he’d be lucky to live past 16, so he tried to fill the little time that he had with as much as he could.”
Talking about Sandra Dee, she says, “Her life was really tumultuous too. She had an incredibly pushy mother, Mary… and she was a child model by the time she was four and signed to Universal… And she had an equally troubled life; she had eating disorders, she became an alcoholic…
“[Bobby and Sandra] were people of immense strength, and I think that’s what drew them to each other… They were both slightly broken.”
Fredericksen is also relishing the opportunity to play a real person.
“That doesn’t happen very often in music theatre,” she says. “You can obviously watch her films, there are some great interviews that she did throughout her time, and there’s a really wonderful book that their son, Dodd Darin, wrote. It’s called Dream Lovers: The magnificent shattered lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, and a lot of what was put into the script was actually taken from that book.
“So, there’s a wealth of information to read about her, and that makes it really fun because then when you get into the space, you feel like you have freedom because you’ve read all the information… [and you] can make choices then based on fact, which is really exciting as an actor.”
So, why does Fredericksen think Dream Lover will be a great show for audiences to see in 2016, particularly younger theatregoers perhaps unacquainted with Darin?
“I think the music is timeless, for one. I would challenge every person who comes to see the show not to be familiar with, at least, one of the songs,” she says.
“The story is shocking, it’s exciting, it’s tumultuous… and it has all of the perfect ingredients to make a really wonderful jukebox musical. And to be the first people to get to see the show… That doesn’t happen very often, and with the cast that we have – people like David [Campbell] and Caroline [O’Connor] and Marney [McQueen] and Bert [LaBonte] and the creative team that we have, I think you would really pinch yourself not to be part of the first audience that got to see this piece…
“I think it will be an experience in the theatre that you’re not likely to forget in a hurry.”
DREAM LOVER – THE BOBBY DARIN MUSICAL: SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
Season: From 22 September 2016
Performance Times: Wed & Thurs 7.30pm, Fri & Sat 8pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
PRICES: From $71.11*
BOOKINGS: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 795 267, Groups 8+ call 1300 889 278
*A Ticketmaster handling fee of $8.35 will be levied at purchase. A delivery fee may also apply depending on the chosen delivery method