Forever Dusty

Book by Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin
New World Stages, New York

Kirsten Holly Smith and Christina Sajous
Kirsten Holly Smith
Kirsten Holly Smith

There is no doubt about where the strong points of Forever Dusty lie. When Kirsten Holly Smith (who got the inspiration for this show and co-wrote the book) playing the eponymous diva or Christina Sajous as her lover Claire open their mouths and sing, the venture takes off.

The pair have beautiful voices and are well-served by a four piece band throughout a musical journey that eventually spans two decades.

Dusty Springfield was a big star of the sixties but, had she not enjoyed a second coming courtesy of the Pet Shop Boys in 1987, might well have been neglected and completely forgotten by anyone under 60 by now.

She certainly needed resurrecting after a decade or more of indulgence that left the singer needing the services of everything anonymous.

The play opens as a bright-eyed Mary O’Brien sings for her multi-accented schoolfriends. Accent is an issue, with the Anglo-Irish girl consistently sounding almost exactly like the late Princess of Wales (Lady Di to the tabloids) or possibly her pregnant daughter-in-law.

The other non-American accents are merely baffling with journo Bob almost certainly from Manchester (or Liverpool or Ireland or Scotland), a classic example. The beehive may get referred to but that is also missing.

The storytelling is melodramatic in the extreme, but that does seem to be a requirement for jukebox musicals.

Dusty, as Mary became, proved to have golden tonsils and a pure white soul voice, which is a gift that she shares with Miss Smith, who may not always sound as close to her subject as she ought but sings a treat. In this, she is matched by the even more soulful Christina Sajous, who hits her dizzy peak with "Tell Him".

In quick time, Mary offends her schoolfriends and then, having joined her brother Dion’s band The Springfields and been re-christened, dumps them for a solo career that involved a meteoric rise and then, when the drink and drugs kicked in, as sharp a fall, prior to the pain of rehab.

Put like this, she could have been an early model for Amy Winehouse—perhaps Kirsten Holly Smith’s next project?

The life story rarely gets beneath the psychological surface, even when love is briefly in the air and then trouble kicks off in South Africa after Dusty refuses to abide by the pass laws preventing racial integration.

Why a woman with a black partner would have gone there in the first place is rather skated over.

What matters to anyone purchasing a ticket is the music and this is powerful, if a little anachronistic at times both in terms of instruments and playing styles.

All of the old favourites are there, the pick being "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me", "Son of a Preacher Man" and, best of all, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me", which really brought the house down.

Audiences will probably flock to see Forever Dusty and have a good time. They seem to care far less about books, clunky dialogue or lack of characterisation than critics, and who is to say that they are wrong?

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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