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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Forever Dusty: Dj Buddy Beaverhausen Off-Broadway

Today, I went to New World Stages on West 50th Street, at Worldwide Plaza, to see the jukebox musical, Forever Dusty. There are a number of good biographies about Ms Springfield (nee Mary O'Brien) out there and, if you've read any of them, you'll realize how the script for this show (whose star co-wrote its book) falls short in many ways. The production seems to be aware of this shortcoming as a note included in the Playbill states: "[H]ow do we tell you this story when there's so much to tell?.... [T]he characters have been composited from multiple people in Dusty's life or invented altogether." Not unusual for turning life into art. But, my God, some of the capsulization is unusually crude. ("Dusty! It's Apartheid!")

Still, can I tell you that, on a visceral level, I absolutely loved this show despite its flaws. (Enough to buy both a cap and fridge magnets for my collections.)

It's a solid production. Songs from Dusty's catalog are nicely matched up with her biographical moments as projected background images assist the minimal set design and move the story along.

Kirsten Holly Smith received a 2006 arts grant from University of Southern California to develop this show and has taken it to NYC cabaret, then on to legit theater. While not "becoming" her character the way Tracie Bennett "became" Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow on the West End and, earlier this year, on the Great White Way, Ms Smith's powerful pipes put Dusty's songs across in a manner that is emotionally faithful and impressionistic.

The musical's song list is flawless in choosing highlights from Dusty's career.  And this is the core of this jukebox musical's appeal. The very well attended matinee audience of a certain age, of which I was a part, was enthusiastic, clapping, on their feet, upbeat, supportive, interactive.

"You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "Wishin' and Hopin'," "The Look of Love," "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (number one with the Pet Shop Boys), and other Dusty songs were beautifully and dynamically presented to much applause and cries of "bravo" today.

The play begins in media res with Dusty being difficult while recording "Son of a Preacher Man" with producer Jerry Wexler. It is a pivotal point in her career before her decline on the pop charts and, personally, into the pills-and-booze period preceding heroin abuse. (The diva's harrowing descent into her private hell is actually given a Disney treatment in this play.)

The tragic end to this story is that Ms Springfield defeated her demons, returned as a star playing Royal Albert Hall, only to discover, during the glory of her comeback, that she had incurable cancer.

Forever Dusty's three-piece band is nothing short of wonderful. So are the cleverly modest sets, lighting, certainly the costume design (fabulous Dusty gowns), musical diection and sound design. Production, overall, is far from shabby.

The cast of five (many of whom, outside the star, assay multiple roles) is just great. Special kudos for belting, sometimes scene-stealing, Christina Sajous.

Shy Mary O'brien created a larger-than-life alter ego as Dusty Springfield. Charles Truenski and Dj Buddy Beaverhausen can relate, of course.

Debby Harry & Ronnie Spector at the premiere of "Forever Dusty"
As I left the theater, I looked down from the New World Stages' theatrical multiplex's balcony, at Kirsten Holly Smith autographing Playbills for her lined-up fans, still in her Dusty wig and gown. A star, I felt, is re-born!

Here's the real Dusty in a song that was a big crowd-pleaser in Forever Dusty:

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