As a gay Sydney-sider in the swinging ‘60s, American-born choreographer Ronne Arnold got to work closely with Dusty Springfield during two of the blue-eyed soul diva’s Australian jaunts, choreographing her stints at Chequers Theatre and the Chevron Hotel.
Now in his 70s, Arnold is revisiting Springfield’s work, this time as co-choreographer of the Bankstown Theatrical Society’s staging of Dusty: The Original Pop Diva.
“I get a bit teary when I see it all unfolding in front of me. It’s sad, but it brings back so many memories ­­­— she was very dear to me,” Arnold told Sydney Star Observer.
Dusty is played by recent Australian Institute of Music graduate Amy Toledano in this production, and Arnold is effusive in his praise the starlet.
“Amy is just wonderful, she is so talented — and she looks like Dusty! She’s rehearsing hard to get the Dusty sound right; I’m helping her as much as I can too.”
Aside from those wonderful songs ­— from I Only Want To Be With You to You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me — Dusty’s life story provides much grist for the mill of a stage production. Behind the public facade, Springfield battled with manic depression, alcohol and drug addiction, and bouts of self-harm.
“She had these awful demons hanging around, a lot of which was to do with her strict Catholic upbringing, because she broke all the Catholic rules,” recalled Arnold.
“I remember when I’d go backstage and sit with her in her dressing room, and little fears and insecurities would creep out. She needed a lot of love that she didn’t quite know how to get. But she was fantastic, she really was … and she was one of ‘our mob’, of course,” he giggled.
While publicly Springfield was evasive when it came to defining her sexuality, she made no secret of her relationships with women, something that features quite prominently in the show. And while Springfield may have been reticent to discuss her sexuality publicly, Arnold said behind the scenes she seemed to embrace that aspect of herself.
“We had fun, we hit all the gay clubs when she was here,” he said with a knowing laugh.
Wait a minute – Dusty Springfield, all blonde beehive and kohl eyes, hit the camp haunts of 1960s Sydney?
“Oh yes. We’d all go out in Kings Cross and have a great time. She’d often start the night hiding away in a corner like a little girl — I would have to grab her and say, ‘Listen, we’re going out tonight.’ She always had fun in the end.”

info: Dusty: The Original Pop Diva plays at Bankstown Town Hall Theatre from May 28 – June 5. www.btsinc.org

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