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Forever Dusty - Theatre Royal Windsor and touring

Published by: Kate Braxton on 9th Feb 2018 | View all blogs by Kate Braxton

It’s only fair to set the scene here and say I am an out and out Dusty fan. I live in a cottage behind her grave and have been hugely anticipating the arrival of Forever Dusty at Theatre Royal Windsor this week - a reviewer's life is Forever Uncomfy...

…This biographical new show has set off on tour with Strictly Theatre Entertainments, and ‘entertaining’ sums it up, in a beehive. It’s nostalgic, dramatic and a simmering pot of emotion from start to finish. Phew!

We’re stepped apace through Dusty’s life story by a script of chapter-style scenes, cataloguing her meteoric rise from shy Irish schoolgirl, Mary O'Brien, through fame and adulation, yet we are also a party to some of her darker periods overshadowed by mental illness, addiction and private struggles with love. The overriding feeling is that she was untouchably brilliant, yet humanly vulnerable. It’s hard not to be empathetic.

Both Springfield’s famous and lesser-known songs drive the narrative in this five person show, and although she physically bears little resemblance to Dusty, the big white boots are filled admirably by Katherine Ferguson. If the characterisation felt a little shaky through Act 1, there is very much a sense of ‘owning it’ come the latter part of the show.  She delivers sequences of magic, including her full rendition of ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, the heady, lingering  'Look of Love', and we get the full force of her performance during ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself' as Katherine's Dusty is driven to her knees by the unmanageability of her life.

Mvula Tampa injects additional power to the production as Dusty’s ‘hidden’, and apparently long-suffering African-American lover, Clare. Her vocals are terrific, her stage presence, quite mystifying. In many of their scenes together, I was perhaps over-drawn to the intrigue of her performance and this ‘dunno what to make of this’ feeling was amplified in their duets, since the pair’s voices compete pretty hard for attention. In many ways, Clare personifies the controversy and conflict in Dusty’s life, so that element of unprettiness is strangely acceptable.

In stark contrast to this emotional heat – and I think for some respite to the audience’s nervous system from writers Jonathan Vankin and Kirsten Holly Smith - the more one-dimensional characters of Dusty’s brother, Dion/Tom and American Producer, Jerry, are given a safe pair of hands in the shape of Josh Harris.  Ashlea Lauren and Samantha Palin also provide strong additional support through musical numbers and anecdotal scenes.

A terrifically balanced selection of musical numbers is crisply delivered by musical director, Pete Dodsworth and his on-stage band, who sadly, but per the direction and writing, remain relatively detached from the stage work.

The unchanging set and simple production values focus all of our attention on the full company’s action and interaction.  With a little sharper attention to the dialogue flow, and some fine-tuning to the shared vocal balance, I believe the show has the potential to be something spectacular in performances to come. 

Runs at Theatre Royal Windsor from Weds 7 - Saturday 10th Feb

  • Show Times
  • Wed – Sat 8pm, Thu 2.30pm, Sat 4.45pm

 
Box Office: 01753 853 888 (10am - 8pm Monday - Saturday)

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