Summer has come and already gone in the time that Dusty has been previewing: performances began at the end of May, and it has now finally opened, 14 weeks later and with most of its cast and creative team entirely replaced. No fewer than three directors are now billed (while a fourth came and went). The original choreographer, several designers and one of the originally billed producers (Michael Linnit) are no longer attached.
There’s no doubt a great backstage musical just waiting to be written about the seemingly tortuous process of putting together such a show. This biographical revue about the life and career of the late, great 1960s British soul singer is just the latest in a long line of musical tributes that currently proliferate around town: Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Abba, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Ray Davies and the Kinks, Carole King, Burt Bacharach and (soon) Motown – jukebox shows of varying degrees of integrity and ingenuity.
There’s an intriguing crossover between the shows, too, with the catalogues of the last three in particular having significant overlaps with the career of Springfield. This show even opens with an instrumental version of Bacharach’s The Look of Love (with A House Is Not a Home and Wishin’ and Hopin’ in there, too), and before the evening is out we’ll have also heard King’s Some Of Your Lovin’ and Motown classics like Dancing in the Street.
But unlike shows such as Sunny Afternoon, Thriller Live or Mamma Mia!, this one doesn’t have the audience dancing in the aisles. It’s too resolutely downbeat for that, as it earnestly replays the needy loneliness and isolation of Springfield who poured her life into her career. It alludes, briefly, to a lesbian relationship with the songwriter Norma Tanega that brought her temporary happiness, but otherwise doesn’t dare to spill the beans.
Structured as a plodding act of remembrance by her best friend being interviewed about their friendship, the cliche-ridden script thuds with such statements as “I’ve made my peace with disappointment a long time ago”, eliciting a loud unsolicited laugh that inadvertently brought the house down. No less laughable are the feeble holographic representations of Springfield singing her own songs that attempt to portray her in 3D but manage only to render her to look like a badly drawn performing figurine.
At other times, there’s a more efficient gliding between black-and-white video projections of the real Springfield and the brave stage impersonation of Alison Arnopp – brave because she is repeatedly asked to compete with the real thing, an absolutely impossible task. So it’s no fault of the actress that she is ultimately defeated.
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