Dusty at the Charing Cross Theatre
Dusty chronicles the life of Mary O’Brien as she rises from parlour singer, seemingly despised by her father, to become Dusty Springfield, the Queen of Blue-eyed Soul. It’s a jukebox musical, which does a good job of weaving Springfield’s discography through the plot.
There are three writers (Duncan Sibbald, Kim Wield and Chris Cowey) and four directors (Chris Cowey, Joey McKneely, Christian Durham and Ben Woolf) credited in the program, and it’s difficult to know who did what at what stage. It’s amazing how a coherent show got through that much creative oversight, let alone jokes.
The first half of the musical is the better half. There is a compelling hook to the story, conflict and a cliffhanger of more conflict to come. Interesting use of tech, with videos of the actual Dusty Springfield singing, remind us that this is “based on real events” and show off what a good job the costume and makeup departments are doing. That said, the line direction is appalling, with seemingly no thought spent on how dialogue should be delivered, which is a shame next to the excellent visual storytelling. The choreography is great, instilling a sense of place, driving the plot and inciting whoops from the audience.
The second half seems to lose itself. The plot disappears. Attempts at increasing tension just look like Dusty throwing a paddy and nothing is ever resolved. The script seems to want to get hard-hitting and emotional but it gives up halfway there. The tech that was so interesting in the first half becomes a crutch. For scenes on end, the audience are asked to watch a live band support a hologram of the real Dusty Springfield, rather than let the perfectly competent Alison Arnopp (Dusty) take the stage.
Having said all that, it’s a fairly fun experience. Other shows at the Charing Cross can be barely audible, but the sound (as well as the lighting) design is all satisfactory. The music sounds incredible and is a highlight, hitting all of the modern musical theatre checkboxes. The actor-musicians are excellent: the entire brass section get up and dance around.
Dusty could have been so much more. It feels like the three writers and four directors started off with a jukebox that had a message – a rare enough thing – and somewhere along the line, they threw it away.
Photo: Elliott Franks
Dusty is on at the Charing Cross Theatre from 25th May 2015 until 21st November 2015, for further information or to book visit here.