×

U.K. Theater Review: ‘Dusty’

Actress Katherine Kingsley brings Dusty Springfield to a stop in Jonathan Harvey’s boisterous bio-musical, then slows to a slur.

With:
Ishmail Aaron, Tricia Adele-Turner, Adam Bailey, Jenny Bolt, Alex Bowen, Esther Coles, Joelle Dyson, Joanna Francis, Rufus Hound, Paul Grunert, Ella Kenion, Katherine Kingsley, Adam Lyons, Lisa Mathieson, Katharine Pearson, Micha Richardson, Sadie-Jean Shirley, Hampus Lee Strand, Roberta Taylor, Chad Wilder.

Ashes to ashes, Dusty to Dusty. Almost 20 years after her death, the loss of Dusty Springfield still stings on these shores. Sniffles ring out at the end of Jonathan Harvey’s jukebox musical “Dusty,” as footage of the iconic songstress’s funeral spills across the stage. So when actress Katherine Kingsley reappears for a final encore, the spit of Springfield in her prime, it feels like a reincarnation of sorts. Beneath that familiar blonde beehive, Kingsley stands still, smiles the slightest of smiles and unleashes that familiar earthy, authoritative voice, soaring off into “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”

Hers is a complex performance in a script bent on slightness. Like the Kinks musical “Sunny Afternoon,” Dusty weaves a great artist’s body of work into the threads of an all-too-human life. Harvey might fold in sweet lifelong friendships and broken relationships to tug on the heartstrings, but his script does more than rattle through a rollercoaster career as it’s derailed by uppers, downers and corkscrews. “Dusty” draws a portrait of the artist, almost a cultural critique, to asks what made Dusty Dusty — and what dragged her down.

Throughout, Springfield seems like a woman in disguise, hiding from herself and from the world. Donning a new wig for every scene, blinking big lashes beneath blue-dusted lids, Kingsley shows us an act: a pop star who constructed her public persona; not Mary O’Brien, daughter of Irish immigrants, but Dusty Springfield, superstar-in-waiting. “I’m 90 per smoke and mirrors, darling,” she purrs in that modulated husk of a voice. “And illusion.”

If Springfield was a singular talent, “Dusty” shows why. In a world ruled by groups, with The Beatles on song, she stepped up to the mic as a female solo artist, dropping her brother to her stern mother’s dismay (Roberta Taylor, gin in hand), and bringing the sound of black, American soul to Britain’s peppy pop scene.

Solo in life too, perhaps: Dusty tells one suitor, “I’m not the marrying kind,” before obliterating her relationship with her lover Lois Wilson (Joanna Frances). Even Springfield’s chirpier numbers — “Wishing and Hoping” or “Middle of Nowhere” — throb with desolation and loneliness. Her voice pulls them down from giddiness to the gut; a low hum of hurt, soulful and deep. This is the woman who stood against apartheid, deported from South Africa for playing to a mixed crowd; who struck out on her own to make it in America, convinced she was built for bigger things; who kept her sexuality a secret behind firmly closed doors.

Together, Harvey’s script and Kingsley’s captivating performance drill into her artistry. Against the fizz of Tim Jackson’s high-octane choreography, Kingsley’s Springfield stands still, cutting poses with the utmost of presence and poise. She sings in much the same way, slowing her band right down on “Son of a Preacher Man” so her voice could sustain the song all alone. Her precision speaks volumes; cozying up to the mic momentarily, then clinging to an extended note. She’ll record in the restroom if it means the right sound, and Kingsley’s voice passes muster — which is to say, it astounds. Springfield’s a Rolls Royce voice, but it only worked when well-oiled.

Springfield’s supreme talent came with perfectionism, insecurity and stage fright. Kingsley tightens her grip on the bottle as she loses her grip on life and, even better, as drink and drugs grind her down, her Dusty slows her way into a slur. In L.A., blitzed and blurry, she seems to unspool like an old tape cassette.

If it tends towards armchair psychology, “Dusty” still makes a persuasive case about a rounded character. Springfield and her songs perhaps deserve something classier than a gag-heavy script that nudges director Maria Friedman’s skittish production into naffness, but equally, with her wry humor and unassuming nature, Springfield would have approved of its crowd-pleasing charm. Rufus Hound, as her old school manager Vic Billings, brings a bit of music-hall camp, while Esther Coles and Ella Kenion, as Dusty’s closest pals, show what it means to stay close at hand. Even so, this is Kingsley’s show — and Dusty’s.

U.K. Theater Review: 'Dusty'

Theatre Royal, Bath; 900 seats; £37, $48 top. Opened, reviewed July 3,2018. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production: An Eleanor Lloyd Productions production of a musical in two acts by Jonathan Harvey.

Creative: Directed by Maria Friedman; Design, Tom Pye; video, Finn Ross; lighting, Bruno Poet; sound, Richard Brooker; choreography, Tim Jackson; orchestrations and vocal arrangements, Steve Sidwell; musical supervision, Tim Sutton.

Cast: Ishmail Aaron, Tricia Adele-Turner, Adam Bailey, Jenny Bolt, Alex Bowen, Esther Coles, Joelle Dyson, Joanna Francis, Rufus Hound, Paul Grunert, Ella Kenion, Katherine Kingsley, Adam Lyons, Lisa Mathieson, Katharine Pearson, Micha Richardson, Sadie-Jean Shirley, Hampus Lee Strand, Roberta Taylor, Chad Wilder.

More Legit

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Warner Music Group Logo

    Warner Music Acquires Musical Theater Indie First Night Records

    Warner Music Group has acquired First Night Record, an independent record label for West End and Broadway musical theatre cast recordings. The company will be overseen by WMG’s Arts Music Division, led by President Kevin Gore. First Night co-founder John Craig will join the Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement to identify and record musical theatre productions in [...]

  • Broadway

    Broadway Back In Biz After Power Outage Ends

    The bright lights of Broadway were back on Sunday morning as midtown Manhattan recovered from a power outage that lasted nearly seven hours in some areas. Social media was full of examples of how New Yorkers rose to the occasion after the power went out on a hot Saturday night shortly before 7 p.m. ET. [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    Power Restored in New York City After Massive Outage Hits Broadway

    UPDATED: Power has gradually been restored to Midtown Manhattan and the theater district after what New York City officials described as a rolling blackout that darkened Times Square and other high-traffic areas on Saturday night. Officials said all power should be restored to the 73,000 customers affected by the outage by midnight ET. Local media [...]

  • Slave Play

    Controversial 'Slave Play' Is Broadway Bound

    “Slave Play,” a controversial drama that examined race and sexuality, is moving to Broadway for a limited run. Written by theatrical wunderkind Jeremy O. Harris, “Slave Play” was a sensation when it ran at the New York Theatre Workshop, drawing such bold-faced names as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Kushner. The show will debut at [...]

  • Mary Said What She Said

    Critic's Notebook: Seeing Isabelle Huppert and Dimitris Papaioannou in Paris

    “Do you miss Paris?” I get that question a lot, but never know what to say. How could I not? The two years I spent in that splendid city covering international cinema for Variety changed my life. “What do you miss most about Paris?” That’s a tough one too. The booksellers on the sidewalk in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content