Writer: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Maria Friedman
Musical Supervisor: Tim Sutton
Choreographer: Tim Jackson
Set & Costume Designer: Tom Pye
Reviewer: Sheila Stratford
The world premiere of the new musical charting Dusty Springfield’s life and singing career, is at the Lyceum in Sheffield. Through 19 songs it follows her turbulent life and contains many of her pop hits including I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man, I just Don’t know What to Do with myself, and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. She was one of Britain’s most successful female singers, with a career ranging from the late fifties to the 1990s when she sang with the Pet Shop Boys. Her musical style developed into distinctive ‘blue-eyed soul’ and was matched with her peroxide blonde bouffant hairstyle, black mascaraed eyes and dazzling outfits. By the time of her death, she had become not only a legendary singer of the swinging sixties but also a gay icon.
The BAFTA and Olivier nominated Jonathan Harvey, based his writing on the authorised biography of her life. He has written over 20 plays and his writing credits for television include the sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme. He is currently on the writing team for Coronation Street. The musical follows both the highs and the lows of Dusty’s life through her songs. There are times when Dusty sings in concert but Harvey has cleverly re-interpreted some of her songs to be sung by others to create the narrative.
The story moves at quite a rapid pace under the direction of Maria Friedman (three-time Olivier Award-winning star of the musical stage). The ensemble and supporting onstage swing give energetic, vibrant and joyous dance performances.
Katherine Kingsley in the lead role as Dusty is excellent. Kingsley is an award-winning and three-time Olivier-nominated actress. Not only does she capture Dusty’s extraordinary singing vocals and style but convincingly portrays Dusty’s self-absorption, self-doubt and her strive for perfection. She also enacts her tragic breakdown brought on in part by an excess of drink and drugs while living in America.
There are strong and tender scenes by Joanna Francis as Lois, a black American and Dusty’s backing singer, later to become her lover and loyal friend. Francis has a beautiful voice. She is a talent to watch.
The set and costume designer, Tom Pye has successfully achieved the passing of the decades by the changes in Dusty’s hairstyles, the fashions of the Ensemble and even the wallpaper. However, it was disconcerting to see Eros in the Piccadilly Circus set wobble. Video is cleverly incorporated to generate movement, as when a taxi departs and aeroplanes jet Dusty around the globe. There is even real footage of her funeral cortege.
Dusty’s concert performance at the end lifts the mood and brings the audience to its feet with a standing ovation. Dusty Springfield’s songs cannot fail to appeal. It is a great production and leaves you with insight into her troubled life when society viewed the position of women, race and sexual orientation differently. It is uplifting that at the end she was able to pull through and get the recognition she deserved. Dusty will always be a true diva.
Runs until 14th July 2018 | Image: Johan Persson