Dream Lover: The Bobby Darin Musical, by Frank Howson & John Michael Howson | Directed by Simon Phillips

Gilbert Theatrical | Lyric Theatre, Star City, Sydney | Currently on sale for dates until 27 November (visit http://dreamlover.com.au)

I must confess that I didn’t know much about Bobby Darin before I saw this Australian musical in Sydney during week ... or at least before the show’s publicity machine started making a fair bit of noise on the airwaves.

Sure, I knew that he’d been a pop-singing sensation in the 1950s and 60s. And I couldn’t have helped hearing his biggest hit, Dream Lover, from which the show takes its name. Maybe I had known about his marriage to popular movie star Sandra Dee but had expunged that knowledge as superfluous.

I guess I imagined Darin, or Walden Robert Cassotto as he’d been born, as some kind of forerunner to the ephemeral boy-band heroes of later years.

I certainly hadn’t realised what a complex character Darin was, nor how diverse his musical talents had been.

I didn’t even credit him for playing such a huge part in popularising Mack the Knife, having given virtually all credit for that song’s success to Louis Armstrong, who’d recorded it just a few years earlier, in 1956.

But listening to a recent radio interview with Bobby’s and Sandra’s son, Dodd Darin, who was in Australia promoting the musical, had filled in quite a few gaps in the story.

I completely agree with Dodd that the casting of David Campbell, son of Aussie rock icon Jimmy Barnes, in the lead role was an inspired choice.

Campbell had earlier starred in stage shows such as Shout!, the story of Johnny O’Keefe and had plenty of evidence to prove the quality and strength of his vocal cords. This is evident from the opening seconds of Dream Lover, when Campbell strolls down the stairs of a fantastic stage set while belting out Mack the Knife.

And in a Googlified (sorry, just made that up) era, I don’t think I’m giving too much away by pointing out that both Darin and Campbell were the sons of young women they thought were their sisters and that the women they regarded as mothers were actually their grandmothers.

The parallel does create a powerful bridge that certainly shows in what is an enthralling stage musical.

Hannah Fredericksen is simply magnificent as Sandra Dee, the power of her voice rising impressively from a body that seems only slight enough to emit a squeak.

Voice quality and acting ability are also obvious strengths of the show’s other two female mainstays — Marney McQueen, who plays Darin’s birth mother Nina, and Caroline O’Connor, who plays Polly, the woman Darin initially thought was his mother but was actually his grandmother.

The stage strengths continue with the two main supporting males — Martin Crewes as Steve Blauner, Darin’s manager and producer, and Bert Labonte as Charlie, Nina’s husband but not Darin’s father.

And the 17-piece band — led by Musical Director Daniel Edwards on piano — absolutely delivers.

For me, the two enthralling revelations about Darin to come out of Dream Lover were his obsession, quite justified, with being regarded as an all-round musical entertainer and creator, and the strength of a social conscience that saw him embrace Bobby Kennedy and indeed be present in the hall when the Presidential hopeful was assassinated in 1968.

Dream Lover is a fine musical, well worth riding the Light Rail to Sydney’s Star City to see. And that’s certainly the way to go, either from Central Station or by parking at Lilyfield or similar. Just don’t depend on Sydney’s notorious traffic to let you get through to Pyrmont on time.

Above: David Campbell and Dream Lover ensemble. All images: Brian Geach.

David Campbell.

Hannah Fredericksen.

Martin Crewes.