A new musical about Dusty Springfield arrives in the West End – with a thud. ★★

There’s something just not right with ‘Dusty,’ which is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre. Could it be the singing? Could it be the acting? Could it be the directing and script? Could it be that it’s multi-media theme just doesn’t work?

I think it’s all of the above. Let’s start with that multi-media mularcky. The producers are calling this show a ‘Fusion Musical’ which means that the show is a combination of Alison Arnopp performing as Dusty mixed in with videos of the actual Dusty Springfield singing from her various television appearances (American Bandstand – 1964, The Ed Sullivan Show – 1965 and 1968, the Dusty TV series on the BBC – 1966 and 1967, Morecambe & Wise Show – 1970, plus others).

Twenty video clips are included in the show, and while a few are cleverly done as holograms, it’s unfortunate that these video clips are much better than any live singing that’s performed. And it’s quite funny because the audience claps at the video clips, like they’re actually seeing Dusty live! And it’s not fair to have Arnopp’s voice competing with Springfield’s in the videos.

And the acting and singing? Well, it’s OK. Arnopp is credible as Dusty. Sure she can sing, and sure she can dress like her, and she definitely can act, but Arnopp is a far cry from the real Dusty. And the wigs she wears? They’re a bit over the top – not her fault, but in a few scenes she looks a bit like a drag queen.

A bit better is Francesca Jackson as Dusty’s friend Nancy Jones. She’s just as pretty as Dusty yet it’s Dusty who becomes rich and famous, however Jackson is a fine singer in her own right. And Whitney White owns the stage in her short bit as Martha Reeves. She’s bound to a huge star in the West End in a few years time. But Arnopp’s singing is a far cry from any other biography musical that’s currently playing in the West End (think ‘Memphis’ where Beverly Knight wows them every night at the Shaftsbury Theatre and Katie Brayben who brings Carole King to life every night in ‘Beautiful’). The rest of the ensemble are quite good, energetic and vibrant, and I also couldn’t help but notice that they are all very young.

I’ll have to pin the blame on the direction and the script. Both by Chris Cowey, who used to be a producer on Top of the Pops. It’s not what you had hoped to expect from a musical tribute show to a British legend. Yes, Dusty Springfield is considered a legend, in her heyday and even today. She scored an incredible 18 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1970 – her peak years. She was a cultural icon of the 1960s and was one of the best-selling UK singers in that decade. She’s been inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame, and was awarded on OBE. Yet, all this doesn’t seem to matter in the show ‘Dusty.’

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It presents Dusty in flashbacks, with Dusty’s life story told by Nancy to a presenter for the television show ‘Talk of the Town.’ It’s a device that doesn’t quite work. And her sexuality is handled a bit clumsily on the show. She was a Lesbian, and in the show she has a minor relationship with a woman who lives in Los Angeles, but it’s a part of the show that appears to be thrown in at the last minute, and before you know it the relationship is over. It’s an acknowledgement of her sexuality but it’s too quick and not enough.

‘Dusty’ opened on 25 May 2015, and had it’s official press night this week. It took 14 weeks for the production team to get this show done as they wanted it. However, another few weeks of additional tweaking won’t really save this production. And they left out any mention of her last hit, which became one of her biggest – What Have I Done to Deserve This – sung with the Pet Shop Boys. It’s a song that past and current generations are familiar with. Instead of ‘Dusty’ being a celebration of her and her career, it’s more like a minor tribute to a woman who deserves to be remembered in a bigger and better show.

Performance Times:- Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 2:30pm and Saturdays at 3pm

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Run time approx. 2 hours.

Until November 21. Tickets: 08444 930650; charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

About the author: Tim Baros
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.