Dusty - The Original Pop Diva

Dusty - The Original Pop Diva
By John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow Bankstown Theatrical Society (NSW). May 29 to June 5.

Twenty-year-old Amy Toledano might have been channeling Dusty Springfield in her impressive performance in the title role of Bankstown Theatrical Society’s production of Dusty.

Splendid choreography, wigs and frocks also helped evoke the diva, as well as the 60s and subsequent decades in a big way. Musical Director Greg Crease’s impressive orchestra completed the illusion from the first notes of the overture.

This Australian penned jukebox musical hasn’t yet taken the world by storm, as hoped, but Dusty, as it is now being seen on the non-professional circuit around Australia, is a far tauter, leaner work than was seen on the professional stage.

Frankly, the smaller-scale, Bankstown production was a more satisfying experience than the big budget original. The intimate Bankstown Town Hall Theatre venue also worked in the show’s favor.

Morbid funeral and AA meeting scenes have, happily, been trimmed back to the bone. Other changes, too, have made this a much pacier piece. Some dialogue and supporting characters remain clichéd; in need of dramaturgy to make them more natural and believable, but there’s huge heart in Dusty and her music, well portrayed.

Clean, simple production values were the key to the smooth continuity of Diane Wilson’s production. Three slightly staggered, 60s floral decorated panels flew in and out on separate fly lines to ensure a snappy flow between scenes, mostly represented more by the overall performance than the simple props and set pieces against black drapes.

Choreography by Ronne Arnold and Edward Rooke nailed the eras, establishing the scene better than scenery could do ever hope to do. Ronne Arnold worked with Dusty in the 60s. His nightclub choreography might have been lifted straight off the stage at Sydney’s Chequers or Vegas. Fabulous costumes, co-ordinated by Tony Attard, further evoked the period, and the Dusty persona, while the James Worner’s wigs added a joyous beehive crown to the visuals.

Amy Toledano, a talent to watch, was warm, vulnerable and luminous as Dusty. Her big numbers were a joy, notably for me, Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. In tandem with Kate Selsby, impressive as younger alter ego, Mary, Dusty’s inner voice was effectively captured in dialogue and song.

Dale Selsby and Christopher Griffith as Dusty / Mary’s parents reached beyond stereotyped writing, which makes their roles principally low comedy, for a couple of genuinely touching moments. Dale Selsby’s My Colouring Book was one of the evening’s highlights. The duo was also very effective with the comedy.

The portrayal of the Pet Shop Boys by Claudio Acosta and Temujin Tera drew the sort of instant response that implied just how right they got it.

Ben Dodd as Rodney, Dusty’s hairdresser and confidante, played the high campiness of the role with the necessary fine balance to entertain but never irritate. Shona Porter was sympathetic as Dusty’s P.A. Peg. Cara Suleiman was warm, sincere and engaging as Dusty’s love interest Reno, and sang the heck out of the Motown songs that fell to her role.

An excellent, well-drilled ensemble completed the picture.

Jukebox musicals are not my favorites, but when the nostalgia works as well as it did in Bankstown’s Dusty, and a performance breathes heart and soul into the performer like Amy Toledano did, my prejudice is easily overcome.

Neil Litchfield

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