Dusty Springfield is one of my favourite singers. Therefore a jukebox musical based on her life sounds appealing. By the time I attended the show I was aware of the various problems which have affected proceedings; press night being postponed until over three months after opening (it is set for early September), technical issues causing performances to be cancelled and curtailed, a change of director, and tales of actors being forced to rehearse changes they will perform that very night.
Last week, it was announced that nine members of the cast will leave this show (out of sixteen – a spokesman for the show claimed there were nineteen cast members, which is worrying in itself). So three cast members leave on the 8th August and the remainder on the 22nd August. There’s talk of trouble behind the scenes.
So, what’s the show like? It is a fusion of live performance from the actors, dancers and band, film clips of Dusty performing (of which more later), and the much-hyped holograms which apparently took four years to develop. The show itself has been in planning for nine years (although it seems this is not the show pitched to Dragons’ Den back in 2009), but little of that planning, or indeed any professionalism, shows on stage.
Dusty herself is played by new stage school graduate Ellie Ann Lowe, and she does work hard, although any resemblance to the subject is nil, and we never believe in her character for a moment. The show is put together with the framing device of an interview with Dusty’s ‘best friend’, the fictitious Nancy Jones, who seems to have gone through life with the same dress and without getting any older. Nancy and Dusty’s relationship is played like one of the worst kind of teen dramas, where kids always pledge to ‘look after each other, no matter what’.
As Nancy, Francesca Jackson is good enough to carry a thankless role, but her presence is superfluous when there was enough real drama in the life of Dusty Springfield nee Mary O’Brien without creating fake friends. Still, there has to be some semblance of a plot (and of a script), although Kim Weild (from Broadway) has not written anything particularly groundbreaking – one scene only worked dramatically, and that was when Dusty took her new friend Norma to the popular lesbian club The Gates and on to the dancefloor, leading into ‘All I See Is You’.
Those film inserts at least give us a sense of the real Dusty – but they are often out of synch with the sound and overshadowed by the backing band and singers who are so often sadly intrusive, with arrangements that do not fit the vocals in the original broadcasts. What should be a powerful moment the first time we see Dusty as a solo artist on screen is marred by these irritating technical issues which should surely have been ironed out by now. However, I would question the artistic choices which meant we saw a reproduction of the famous Motown show where Dusty duetted with Martha Reeves, rather than the far superior film sequence itself.
As for the holograms – the first one is in black and white and vaguely works as a curiosity, but the colour one which opens the second half (‘Spooky’) is atrocious, and if the lack of usable footage means we have to resort to a body double ‘singing’ with her back to the audience for half the song, it is time to give up. There’s another one which segues from an excellent quality colour film clip of the real Dusty into this jerky, blurry travesty. I was totally bemused as to why anyone thought this was a good idea. And finally, there is a hologram performance of ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ which just falls flat.
If I try to be kind to this show, I will say that the beleaguered cast work hard, although there is little atmosophere or enjoyment visible to the audience. The whole thing is a major car crash which commits the unforgivable sin of making Dusty Springfield look as if she was a bit rubbish, which I am sure is not the creators’ intention. Money has been clearly thrown at this show, but it hasn’t stuck, leaving a poorly directed and scripted mess which overreaches itself by trying to do too much and fails on nearly every front.
A show which resorts to getting the audience to sing along (to ‘In The Middle of Nowhere’) for no reason at all, is showing signs of desperation in my book. Were it not for the fact that Dusty’s talent does shine through despite all the odds being against her (dodgy cutting of clips, that synch problem, dancers blocking our view of the clips, awful arrangements), I would give this even more of a negative review. There’s a nice moment at the end where Dusty appears to be signing off ‘love and thanks’ on the see-through curtain which separates show from audience. It’s the equivalent of being given a medal for endurance.
Those of you who got 50% off tickets as we did, from LoveTheatre, be aware that the venue will not accept your paper tickets and you will have to swap them for proper tickets at the box office. Given that every other West End venue manages to deal with printed tickets, this just seems churlish to me, and the lack of customer care at the door in refusing our barcoded printouts did not impress. In other examples of over-pricing, a small bottle of water will set you back over £2 and a programme/brochure combo £8.
Do not waste your money on this show. I would instead urge you to check out performances from the lady herself on YouTube, and to invest in a copy of the DVD collection ‘Dusty at the BBC’. Miss Springfield, I am truly sorry your memory is being subjected to such rubbish as I saw last night. Here, dear readers, have a look at what I am really talking about.
The producer of this show is seemingly planning a 3D hologram show about Jimi Hendrix. On the evidence here I would urge him to reconsider, and I would advise audiences to ignore any such plans.