David Harris, as one of Australia’s leading men of musical theatre, is one of only a small club of make performers with name recognition and instant credibility. Our leading men are few and far between, and they are often a little removed from the rest of the world – impossibly polished, possessing a certain kind of charm. In a new cabaret, Time is a Traveller, Harris invites us in a little bit, and shares how he got into that club. From RSL talent quests to VHS tapes.
In our small group of leading men, Harris is perhaps the most affable. He possesses a willing smile and sense of ease. If he wasn’t so comfortable on stage, you could call him unassuming. But he is comfortable, and rightly so – he belongs on stage. In his cabaret, he stays true to this image: he’s friendly and lightly self-deprecating as he describes his Newcastle childhood, but never denies his own ability.
The staging is simple – a piano (with Bev Kennedy serving as musical director), some candles, a stool, a curtain for flair – and it’s all we need; we could have survived on nothing but Harris, Kennedy, and the music.The Hayes Theatre is proving to be a good venue for cabaret: the close quarters tend to encourage a connection between the performer, the audience, and the music; it’s a little like settling into your seat to witness a secret.
Harris understands this, so he gives us his secret, which is his career journey, sung as highlights, wishes that came true, wistful memories of shows and people that meant a lot to him. He sings from Miss Saigon, perhaps the role he’s still best known for (and, he admits, his most challenging experience to date). He sings a little Full Monty, a little Thoroughly Modern Millie, touring through his career milestones.
There’s also a lot of Peter Allen (Time is a Traveller being a reference to Allen’s ‘Tenterfield Saddler’). Harris credits Allen as a large influence in his life, and it’s easy to see why, in the way Harris guides a narrative through a song, in the casual smile, in the quiet intelligence of Harris’ performing style and show structure. Things are planned, and the result is a joy, and Allen and Harris are a good match. Is it any surprise Harris found his break in The Boy From Oz?
The night slips into brief diversion for ‘Bring Him Home’ – Harris has sung in Do You Hear the People Sing, a concert of Boublil and Schonberg works alongside international music theatre star Lea Salonga – and it seems so strange that Harris has not yet tattooed himself with 24601 on stage; it’s one of those rare, much-desired moments in cabaret when an artist moves into the song and acts it while they sing as if they have no other choice. On that small Hayes stage, in this one song, Harris reminds us that he is a star.
Much of the show is light and fun – there’s even yodelling – and Harris, ever likable, ever professional, keeps us just slightly at a distance, but he does it with such warmth that it’s difficult to care. It’s a pleasure and privilege to have him at the Hayes (it speaks wonders for the reputation of the new musical theatre/cabaret home to have Harris on board), and if he can sing with sincerity and commitment, we don’t need to delve deeper inside the man with the Fiyero smile. We have enough, more than enough, in the strong, pure tone that floats in the air before landing in your gut.