Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical

Jess Zintschenko

The producers have assembled a very talented cast of which there are no weak links. Every member on stage is working hard but no one is working harder than David Campbell.
Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical

Image: David Campbell & Ensemble in Dream Lover. Photo by Brian Geach.

Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical opened in Melbourne at the State Theatre on 31 December 2017 following the World Premiere in Sydney in 2016. The jukebox musical follows the relatively short but extraordinary life of Walden Robert Cassotto, the artist known to the world as Bobby Darin.

It may seem an odd choice to create a new Australian musical about the life of an American artist who died over 40 years ago, but there are many aspects of Darin’s story which Australian audiences connect with. We love to root for the underdog, and are inspired by stories of hardship, defying the odds, and those who are determined to make something of themselves no matter their circumstances.

ADVERTISEMENT

As a sickly child growing up in the Bronx in the 1940s Darin wasn’t expected to make it through his teenage years. Being motivated rather than limited by his health Darin went on to have a very successful career as an award winning actor, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist for two decades before his death at just 37 years old.

The producers have assembled a very talented cast of which there are no weak links. Every member on stage is working hard but no one is working harder than David Campbell as Bobby Darin. Campbell rarely leaves the stage and it is easy to see why he was chosen for the role. Just like Darin he is an incredibly versatile performer unwilling to rest on past successes and is always challenging himself in his career. Campbell brings such energy and charisma to a very demanding role as he sings, dances, and acts through the almost four decades of Darin’s eventful life. His voice is perfectly suited to the show and you can tell he enjoys the opportunity to tell the story of this influential entertainer.

As with any other biographical musical or movie it is impossible to fit an entire life in a two hour format, and quite often the fast paced movement through time can be difficult for audiences to keep up with. In Dream Lover the time period is aided strongly, particularly in the bigger ensemble numbers, by Tim Chappel’s gorgeously detailed costume design and the work of Wig Coordinator Michele Skeete.

The show breaks down Darin’s life into various ‘chapters’ which are explored with a combination of humour and pain. It is presented in a format which provides the audience with the onstage and offstage persona of Bobby Darin (and for a short period that of ‘Bob Darin’). Onstage there are bright lights, stylish costumes, glitter, feathers, a big band, and of course the showman in full effect. The offstage world is more modest during the intimate and serious moments between Darin and his family, his Manager, and his future wife Sandra Dee. 

The visual look of the show is stunning. Set, lighting, props, costumes and wigs create an old school Hollywood/Vegas world where everything is beautiful, at least until the music stops. Brian Thomson’s set design looks like a giant glittery black piñata out of which brightly coloured treats appear without the need to break it apart. Paul Jackson’s lighting design in conjunction with Tim Chappel’s costumes help differentiate between Darin’s glamourous life in the spotlight and the hardships of his personal life.

The musical numbers chosen for Dream Lover are a combination of songs written by Bobby Darin himself, those he made popular, and other songs appropriate to the time which help further the story. It is particularly fitting for Dream Lover to have the musicians visible as they play as Darin was a multi-instrumentalist himself, and the big band sound is important to the era and his career. Under the direction of Richard Montgomery the 18 piece big band sound remarkable and it is wonderful for the audience to see the musicians doing what they do best alongside the cast.

Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography of the ensemble numbers is outstanding. From the opening number ‘Mack The Knife’ the audience knows they are in for something special. As the show moves through the 50s, 60s and to the 70s the dance moves are what audiences would expect for the time but with a twist, and the dancers themselves have so much energy and a twinkle in their eye which leave the audience thoroughly impressed.

Marney McQueen, known primarily for her comedic work, takes on the role of Bobby Darin’s sister Nina. She spends much of the show as the supportive big sister but has the opportunity to showcase her incredible voice in the second act with her beautiful and emotional performance of ‘More’. The audience were totally captivated and it is definitely a moment which stays with you long after you have left the theatre.

Fans of Bobby Darin and/or David Campbell will love Dream Lover, as it is a chance to relive the artist, the time, and the songs they have grown up with. Those who are unfamiliar with the life or work of Bobby Darin will enjoy the show as it takes the audience back to a time where even if the world wasn’t better, at least it looked and sounded incredibly beautiful. 

3 ½ stars out of 5

John Frost and Gilbert Theatrical present Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical
Based on an original concept and stage play by Frank Howson and John Michael Howson
Adapted for the stage by Frank Howson with Simon Phillips and Carolyn Burns
Directed By: Simon Phillips
Musical Director: Richard Montgomery 
Choreography: Andrew Hallsworth
Featuring: David Campbell, Marina Prior, Hannah Fredericksen, Rodney Dobson, Martin Crewes, Marney McQueen
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
From December 27

 
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Jess Zintschenko