Charing Cross Theatre, London


Oh dear, how can we be sure this ain’t going to light up the town? Well maybe the venue gives a clue – the subterranean Charing Cross Theatre once the home of The Players Theatre and still finding it hard to shake off a certain unfortunate atmosphere despite expensive refurbishment.  And then there are the wigs. A more distressed crop of thatches it would be hard to find.

© Elliott Franks

© Elliott Franks

The show, as the title suggests, is a tribute compilation to the one and only Dusty Springfield. No one deserves one more than she – as one character puts it, our very own blue-eyed queen of soul. To see her once again, in video snatches, is to be reminded of the richness and timbre of the voice, the sheer charisma she exuded in the ‘60s: graceful, iconic in empire-line frocks and those hairstyles, beehived and ringletted to within an inch of their lives.

But a diva’s lot is not always a happy one. Dusty, the musical, attempts to show us the unhappy star inside the diva – if mildly – within the story of how Catholic Ealing teenager, Mary Isobel Catherine O’Brien, became Dusty Springfield super-star, and doing it through live performance, video clips and a supposed interview with Dusty’s best friend, Nancy Jones.

Nancy, a good sort, stays loyal despite Dusty’s increasingly complex life – and Nancy’s own marriage. Cue for one of Dusty’s famous torch songs of lost love. Was Nancy the love of her life, after all?Dusty-7 (2)

Dusty certainly amounts to a celebration of girl-power and Dusty’s alter ego is more than ably portrayed by Alison Arnopp and by Francesca Jackson’s Nancy. Both sing with warmth and often sound remarkably like Dusty.

The ensemble do their stuff, as ensembles always do and the amalgam of pre-recording and live musicians on the whole works well enough. But the company are fighting a losing battle with a script so lacking in shape or vitality it’s beyond dire. Even the video clips are out of synch. Dusty the perfectionist, the ground-breaker, would be spinning in her grave.

Tribute shows can work very well as a recent spate (Carole King, Bacharach) confirm. Sadly, this isn’t going to be one of them.

Dusty is booking at the Charing Cross Theatre to Nov 21, 2015

First published in Reviewsgate, Sept 2015