David Campbell on the Ad Cab Fest, John Bucchino and the Hayes Theatre Co

David Campbell returns to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival next month, with American composer and lyricist John Bucchino. Ben Nielsen caught up with him to discuss morning television, the Hayes Theatre Co and his new show.

David Campbell
David Campbell. Image by Kurt Sneddon

David Campbell is at the other end of the phone, apologising profusely.

The call was actually scheduled ten minutes earlier, but despite his ruefulness, Campbell has a worthy explanation. His flight to Sydney was delayed in Melbourne, where he had just finished hosting Mornings live from the TV Week Logie Awards. Even though he must be operating on very little sleep, Campbell offers me his time with a chipper attitude.

“I was completely sober [at the Logie Awards],” Campbell says with some pride. “It was a very enlightening experience, a very different experience because you’re sort of just looking at it all…it was very loud in the room – perhaps I’m getting old.”

Getting old may be a simple fact of life, but it doesn’t mean that David Campbell is slowing down. He can be seen on national television every weekday in a timeslot that he and co-host Sonia Kruger inherited from Kerri-Anne Kennerley in 2012. Mornings has proven popular with audiences, but as with its precursor, the show generally lags behind rival networks. Campbell insists that ratings and criticism only spawn persistence.

“You know, I’ve sat around looking at charts when I’ve released albums, pulling my hair out, but you actually just…run your own race. I think what we try to do, Sonia and I and our team at Mornings, is to constantly reinvent what we’re doing to try and stay ahead of our game. Look, it’s a long battle; it’s like Game of Thrones. These things don’t happen in just one season – you can’t win back Westeros and The Iron Throne in just one season, that wouldn’t be fun.”

Campbell’s commitment to rebuilding a show that didn’t “really function” is admirable, especially given his other engagements. He has just entered a partnership with four other production companies to establish Independent Music Theatre and the Hayes Theatre Company in Potts Point. The official opening in February mounted public excitement at the prospect of a new era of independent theatre and cabaret in Australia.

“The Hayes has really come out of the block in a way that we were not anticipating,” Campbell says.

“The response that it’s had publically has been mind-blowing, remarkable and very humbling. There was a real outpouring of love from the community here, not just critics, I mean people. Bums on seats, coming and thinking its great.”

Sweet Charity, the theatre’s inaugural production, suitably paid homage to the theatre’s namesake, Nancye Hayes, as well as a golden era of Australian performing arts. With Dean Bryant in the director’s chair and Verity Hunt-Ballard as lead, Sweet Charity was destined for success. But the show didn’t just sit on the laurels of its star-studded marquee, instead proving itself worthy of the huge critical and public acclaim. 

“I think that the joy of the Hayes and I think that what people are enjoying about it is that…people are going to be completely immersed in the theatre,” he says. “You’re paying under 50 dollars, you’re seeing the top performers in the country, with the best directors, doing amazing pieces right there in front of you. The full immersion that the Hayes can provide makes it a very powerful experience as an audience member.”

Because of the success of Sweet Charity and subsequent shows, audience expectations are high. The company will soon make “a couple of big announcements” for the remainder of the year, are considering the possibility of extended external seasons for Hayes shows, and already have “a lot of exciting stuff on the board” for 2015.

With his commitments to producing and television, Campbell’s own singing and acting career have largely been placed on hold. Audiences have heard very little since his 2011 album Let’s Go, but Campbell says he has simply been waiting for the right project.

“I thought to myself, it’s been a while since I had recorded and I didn’t know what to do next. I sort of really wanted to do something that was passionate to me to really get my spark going again.”

Campbell’s spark reignited with the opportunity to work with friend and colleague John Bucchino, with whom he will return to the stage at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Campbell’s partnership with the award-winning American composer and lyricist began almost fifteen years ago, during his first trip to New York City.

“I’ve always loved seeing John’s shows and my early albums are basically flooded with John’s material,” Campbell says.

“I’ve done workshops with him, we’ve toured our own cabaret shows in the states in the 1990s to 2000s – it’s a friendship and a creative partnership that I’ve always valued.”

Bucchino has become somewhat of a Broadway legend, having worked with the likes of Art Garfunkel, Liza Minnelli, Patti LuPone, Kristin Chenoweth and Michael Feinstein. He was last seen in Australia in 2009, as part of Campbell’s first program as Artistic Director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. This time around, the duo will also record an album together.

“[The recording will be] a piano, vocal, cabaret album, and we’re going to release that independently on my own label. John and I have always wanted to record the show that we did and we didn’t have the facility to do it, and we said if we don’t do it now we’ll never do it. As a singer you don’t get that opportunity to have a great songwriter and composer as your best mate…I figure that’s too good an opportunity to waste.”

In many ways, the show will also be a homecoming. It’s been a while since Campbell has properly visited his hometown, and even longer since he last performed at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival – an event that Campbell and wife Lisa helped reinvigorate during their three-year tenure from 2009 to 2011. 

“I don’t know what we gave it,” he chuckles.

“We tried to make it fun and we just did what we really knew we could do with it. I think that’s what Kate’s [Kate Ceberano, Artistic Director] done as well. She’s brought a far darker, edgier feel to it; she’s explored different avenues, rural sense of cabaret, local cabaret artists. I think it’s really exciting and I’m thrilled to be there this year.”

It’s hard to believe that Campbell has time for anything else, but he’s also the father of a four year old. Of his son, Campbell says:  “he’s extremely confident, well mannered and very charming. Already we’re thinking he could be in movies, but you know he’s four, I’m going to low-ball this and say he’s got a long way to go.”

He certainly does have a long way to go, if only to catch up to his father’s obvious sense of passion, determination and commitment.

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