State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
December 31, 2017
Bobby Darin (1936 – 1973) was a Grammy award-winning performer, actor, political activist, entrepreneur, and composer. His song-writing credits included such hits as ‘I’ll Be There’, ‘Multiplication’, ‘Simple Songs Of Freedom’, ‘Splish Splash’, ‘Things’, and ‘Dream Lover’.
Further still, the multi-talented artist was known for his iconic covers of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, ’Mack The Knife’, and ‘Beyond The Sea’.
Darin also tried his hand at film, featuring in Pressure Point (where he was nominated for a Golden Globe) and Captain Newman M.D (where he was nominated for an Academy Award).
His magnetic public persona, however, was underscored by a turbulent and unstable personal life.
During childhood, he suffered from rheumatic fever, resulting in severe heart damage. Perhaps, because of this debilitating affliction, it instilled in him while he could, intense drive and determination to make the most of every professional opportunity.
As a grown-up, Darin had several high – profile romances, firstly with Connie Francis, and secondly, with Sandra Dee. The latter relationship resulted in the couple marrying when Dee was only sixteen, having a child together, but ultimately divorcing.
Darin’s world was also rocked by a deep family secret. This shocking revelation in fact, caused him to withdraw from the public eye for several years thereafter.
Given Darin’s immense talent and the ongoing drama surrounding him, it seemed only logical to bring his story to gripping life.
The locally-produced musical, Dream Lover, is the slick and stunning, end result of that process.
Together, co-writers, Frank Howson and John Michael Howson, have created a balanced, tidy and accessible concept and book. Their intelligently-formulated vision incorporates over forty tunes from Darin’s extensive catalogue, as well as other familiar songs from the period, to define and drive the show’s powerful journey. Where act one focusses on Darin’s meteoric rise to fame, act two details his personal challenges in searing depth.
With public interest in retro-pop riding high, Dream Lover’s timing could not be more perfect. Similar musicals such as Beautiful (about the life and music of Carole King) and the revival of Jersey Boys (about The Four Seasons), are also playing in selected capital cities this year.
Following a triumphant debut season in Sydney at this time last year, Dream Lover will be playing for a strictly-limited ten week run at the Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre.
From a musical, performance, technical and creative standpoint, this is an expertly-crafted experience on every level. It is the perfect example of ‘taking a village’ to make a project of this magnitude, look effortless.
Direction from Simon Phillips, allows the experience to cover vast emotional territory, yet always keeps the pace smooth and tight. Richard Montgomery’s seamless musical direction, intertwines each song with ease into the linear narrative. It is apparent that every number has been chosen with special consideration, to tell Darin’s story.
Brian Thomson’s gigantic, tiered set design fills the State Theatre’s vast stage. Trimmed with hundreds of colourful light globes, he has reinforced Darin’s musical legacy with showroom savvy. Think Radio City Music Hall meets The Sands Hotel or likewise, and you will get the idea.
Employing a process similar to the Melbourne-based group, The Production Company, the eighteen-piece band are in fact, all placed on stage. This smart decision gives audiences a constant reminder of Darin’s vision to be the best entertainer he could. It should also be noted that the show’s more intimate and dramatic moments are all played stage front, with furniture-driven props wheeled in and out, framing each scene.
Andrew Hallsworth’s complex and energetic choreography evokes era-specific razzle dazzle. The ‘Las Vegas’, ‘On Tour’, and ‘Copacabana’ sections of the show are particular stand outs. The ‘Slippery Slide’ segment, with special focus on Darin’s campaigning efforts for Senator Bobby Kennedy, is breathtaking. (Hallsworth is supported by resident director and choreographer, Natalie Gilhome.)
Sound design by Michael Waters is crisp and clear, always providing an excellent balance between the performers and the band.
Paul Jackson’s expert lighting design is bright and lively during the bigger musical numbers, and where the story requires, darker and more moody, too.
Frank Harlow’s technical direction, with stage management from Kirsten Marr, is faultless.
The popular cabaret star, recording artist, and morning television host, David Campbell, plays Darin with heart, depth and flair. (A recent feature article in the lead-up to the Melbourne season, without giving too much away, also detailed several uncanny similarities Campbell shares with Darin.)
Much like Hugh Jackman did with The Boy From Oz (a musical with parallel dramatic scope about the Australian entertainer, Peter Allen), Campbell cements his reputation here as a triple threat of the highest order. Immersing himself into the character full-force, he is barely off stage for the show’s two-hour running time, either.
Supported by an outstanding principle cast, it should be noted that many of the actors are returning players from the Sydney season. This probably explains the relaxed and natural chemistry everyone shares with one another.
Newcomer, Hannah Fredericksen, plays Sandra Dee, first with innocent frailty, and later, steely resolve. As the story progresses, her scenes with Campbell make for riveting viewing. Of the many songs they shared together, ‘If I Were A Carpenter’, was a particular highlight.
Marina Prior is cast in two key roles, as Darin’s ex-showgirl parent, Polly, and Dee’s protective stage mother, Mary. This fascinating study in contrasts also highlights Prior’s extensive range and experience as a singer/actress.
Martin Crewes plays Darin’s reliable yet long-suffering manager, Steve Blauner, with charm and aplomb. The two duets he shares with Campbell, ‘I’ve Got The World On A String’, and ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ are both a delight.
The part of young Bobby, and Bobby’s son, Dodd, is shared by four youngsters (Oscar Mulcahy, Amon Prete, Hudson Sharp, and Lachlan Young). On the night I reviewed, Sharp played both roles with confidence and skill. He will be an actor to watch for future reference.
Special mention must be given to Marney McQueen as Darin’s sister, Nina. Within the context of a key plot point preceding it, her electrifying rendition of ‘More’ is an absolute show stopper.
Dream Lover covers emotional and political ground as pertinent today, as it surely must have been within the context of Darin’s life story fifty years ago. It was an absolute privilege to witness first-hand a big budget musical equal to any Broadway or West End production, delight and enrapture the capacity opening night audience.
I can’t think of a more satisfying way to start 2018. Don’t miss it!
For more information and tickets: https://dreamlover.com.au