Dusty review – a painful failure of a jukebox musical

Charing Cross theatre, London
This musical biography of Dusty Springfield is forlorn and misguided

If you can’t get the wigs right, you’re in trouble, which is not as flippant as it sounds: the very least a successful jukebox musical must achieve is a decent evocation of its period. But the fact that Dusty is a painful failure goes beyond the unconvincing beehives, or even the high-energy dancing that owes more to Hazell Dean than Springfield’s sinuous moves. The clunky expositional dialogue doesn’t help (“Who the hell is going to sing backup for us?” asks Martha Reeves, as a nervous Dusty hovers in the wings; when a new show called Top of the Pops is mentioned, our heroine brushes it off immediately with a contemptuous: “That won’t last!”) And perhaps even worse is the ill-advised decision to accompany archive footage of Springfield with a live band, the two often out of synch. There are, on occasion, holograms: don’t ask.

Alison Arnopp, playing Dusty, battles away valiantly but doesn’t seem to understand that, for all Springfield’s ability to ratchet up the decibels, it was actually restraint that made her such an affecting and brilliant soul singer. This musical consequently does marginally better when it’s at maximum volume (In the Middle of Nowhere rather than I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten), but overall, it’s a forlorn and misguided enterprise, with bad hair to boot.


Alex Clark

The GuardianTramp

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