It’s so cynical and artlessly lazy to write a musical about a pop diva which does nothing but weave together the songs of her career. But this join-the-dots formula seems the usual way we are now served musicals.
What’s really staggering with Dusty is that John-Michael Howson needs to share writing credit for this pantomime plot with two others. Lucky for them that Dusty Springfield did such fabulous songs.
Dusty was born into a middle-class Irish family in north London. Mary O’Brien was a plain school girl, nicknamed Dusty by her teachers, who took a while to find that distinctive soulful black voice.
But stepping from Mary’s bedroom mirror comes the Dusty of her teen dreams, the helmet of blond hair, the visor of black mascara, the gowns showing barely an inch of flesh, and her arms moving with that surprising woodenness.
Add the crisp English accent and Dusty is a well-armoured 60s creation. By the end of this musical we don’t know much more about her, beyond the usual superstar angst of success and decline.
Our voyage follows her TV beginnings and her doubts, her adoring gay hairdresser and her anti-apartheid stand in South Africa. We see her fame, her subsequent decline into alcoholism in Los Angeles, her revival with the Pet Shop Boys, her death in 1999.
These are all landmarks for a good Dusty song, stretched to speak specifically to her own life, yet staged here with often awesome lighting, dancing and production standards.
Director Stuart Maunder effectively delivers an up-market Dusty concert and Tamsin Carroll superbly delivers the voice, gesture and look of the armoured lady herself.
Alexis Fishman adds welcome depth as the young Mary that Dusty leaves behind; the talented Mitchell Butel finds truth as Dusty’s fluttering hairdresser; and Deni Hines is great if underused as the fictional Reno, who represents a composite of Dusty’s girlfriends. Dusty sings The Look Of Love to her but somehow lets her get away.
An avalanche of Dusty hits -“ like If You Go Away, I Only Want To Be With You, Son Of A Preacher Man, Little By Little -“ are interspersed with other 60s classics like My Generation and Dancing In The Street.
The cast lay on the drama and comedy with a trowel, showing little ease with the script, but if taken more as a concert Dusty is electric, entertaining and full of musical satisfaction.
Dusty: The Original Pop Diva is on at the Lyric Theatre, Star City.