Dusty has finally opened officially at London's Charing Cross Theatre — fourteen weeks after previews began. I doubt it will run as long again as it already has. And if this is what they've ended up with — after burning through a number of directors (three are now billed) and replacing several members of the creative team and most of the cast — I dread to think what it must have been like when it first began previews.
The script, jointly credited to co-director Chris Cowey, Kim Weild and an entity known as Madpan Entertainments Ltd (the first time I've ever seen a limited company authoring a show), is part-Wiki, part-cliche: "I've made my peace with disappointment a long time ago". The audience will have to do the same, alas.
It's a pity, as the songs are of course pop greats, stretching from Bacharach and Carole King (both coincidentally the subjects of other London shows right now) to Motown (soon to be heading to the West End from Broadway). And it's no fault of Alison Arnopp in the title role that is frequently made to compete with the real thing on video and/or a bizarre, nearly comical looking hologram effect. (The current London Palladium show Sinatra also has video footage of the man on series of floating screens around a floorshow of dancers and a live onstage band, a trick repeated here but on a much lower budget).
The show tries, in the method of Beautiful and Jersey Boys, to re-tell something of the story of Springfield's life along with the songs, from bright Ealing schoolgirl to loner adult, via the hackneyed device of an onstage interview with her former best friend. But the show lacks the courage of its own convictions to tell that story fully: her relationships with women are only coyly referred to.
Period dances by Broadway choreographer Joey McKneely sometimes feel under-nourished, and the onstage band led by Dean Austin over-amplified.
There's not a lot to recommend it, to be honest. If you want a celebration of another iconic talent head to Beautiful, about singer-songwriter Carole King, instead, or wait for the West End transfer in October of the Burt Bacharach show, now re-titled Close to You, from the Menier Chocolate Factory. Between them, you'll even hear many of the same songs you would have heard here.
"You can’t blame the cast for this stunningly mediocre production: for the most part they perform with enthusiastic charm."
Claire Allfree for The Telegraph
"With the microphone levels awry, the din vibrated through the auditorium as in one of those Fifties sci-fi films where they kill the population with awful soundwaves. Please. Let sleeping divas lie."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"There’s an interesting drama submerged in all of this — chiefly about Dusty’s struggle to acknowledge that she was gay. But her travails are clumsily handled, and we’re inundated with clichés, delivered in a style that’s often cacophonous."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press