Monday, 14 November 2016

Dusty The Musical, Nov 12, 2016 ****

Written by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow, presented by EY and The Production Company 
Playhouse, Art Centre Melbourne, until Dec 4, 2016  
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon Nov 14, 2016 and later in print. KH
 Cast with Amy Lehpamer, Elenoa Rokobaro, Todd McKenney, Virginia Gay– pic Jeff Busby
1960’s pop idol, Dusty Springfield’s unique, sensual and soulful singing is the core of Dusty The Musical, a show that follows her career from shy, Irish Catholic schoolgirl until her death in 1999.

Accomplished singer, actor and dancer, Amy Lehpamer, channels Dusty without impersonating her, capturing Dusty’s rich, dusky tone that straddled Pop and Soul styles, and echoing her idiosyncratic bright timbre and resonant vibrato.

Dusty aficionados and novices alike will thrill to Lehpamer’s moving renditions of Dusty’s startling repertoire of hit songs, including: I Only Want To Be With You, Wishin’ And Hopin’, The Look Of Love and You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.

Lehpamer is charismatic as Dusty, replicating not only her vocal stylings but also her elegance and signature gestures as she expresses the melancholy in I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and the soulful passion of Son Of A Preacher Man, Dusty’s US hit.

Born Mary O’Brien in London in 1939, Dusty was a red-haired, short-sighted, tubby tom-boy with an unusual voice that became her passport to freedom and fame in the 1960’s, as well as to despair and substance abuse later in her career.

In Jason Langley’s deftly directed production of this updated, improved script (John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell, Melvyn Morrow), Dusty is always accompanied by her child-self, Mary, played warmly by Baylie Carson, whose dreams of being a singer are fulfilled but whose self-doubt always underlies Dusty’s success.

The shy Dusty disguised the fear, guilt and loneliness behind her public persona with black eye make-up, platinum wigs, lamè gowns and elegant, exaggerated gestures.

Dusty tried to keep her lesbian personal life a secret but, in this show, black US singer, Reno (Elenoa Rokobaro), is a conflation of all Dusty’s female lovers, and the song, Wishin’ and Hopin’, becomes their gentle seduction, while The Look of Love expresses Dusty’s secret yearning for Reno.

The adjustments to the original, 2006 script effectively streamline the story, weaving young Mary throughout the narrative, stripping some unnecessary scenes and dialogue, although, other than Dusty herself, most characters remain two-dimensional.

Virginia Gay and Todd McKenney, as Dusty’s friends Peg and Rodney, provide light-hearted, comic relief as well as giving some perspective on Dusty’s private life, but Rodney still delivers too many cheesy, gay gags.

The talented ensemble, dressed in Isaac Lummis’s vivid, 60’s costumes, performs Michael Ralph’s perky choreography that is a blend of modern sass with 60’s pop and psychedelia, and the tight on-stage band, under Michael Tyack, captures the depth and beat of the toe-tapping music.

Despite the sadness of much of Dusty’s life and death, this tribute to her music and her life will lift the spirits of even the most jaded audience.

By Kate Herbert

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