Left – Amy Lehpamer and Baylie Carson. Cover – Amy Lehpamer and company. Photos – Jeff Busby
I like to believe that inside every stage hungry, larger than life, show pony, superstar is the nervous child who once sang in front of their bathroom mirror, hairbrush in hand and dreams still out of reach. Dusty Springfield aka the “carrot topped, tubby teenager” Mary O’Brien had dreams bigger than most, and the tenacity, talent and fortitude to make them come true.
The balance between neglected teenager and internationally celebrated performing artist seemed difficult for Dusty to keep, and the creative team behind the 2016 reimagined revival of the production kept this at the forefront of the narrative.
Jason Langley who directed the production, found the similarities between the artist Dusty and the inner child in all of us who has the capacity to guide, encourage, belittle and dissuade from achieving our potential. The plot felt mixed at times, the opening act presented the audience with a jukebox musical of upbeat song and dance numbers, before descending into much darker (and for this reviewer, completely unknown) territory.
The soundtrack is easily one of the best aspects of the production, with classic hits; “Wishin’ and Hopin”, “I Only Want To Be With You” and “Son of a Preacher Man”. And it’s easy to be transported back in time and enjoy the incredible cast’s vocals. Musical Director Michael Tyack has ensured the original tracks lose none of their brilliance and are safe in the hands of the outstanding cast.
Which brings me to the incredible Amy Lehpamer, who embodies the mind, spirit and most importantly soul, of the legend that is Dusty Springfield. Fresh out of the convent from touring as Maria in The Sound of Music, Lehpamer never misses a beat and is truly captivating in this role. Joined by Australian entertainment icon Todd McKenny as her ever-faithful hairdresser Rodney, they along with dresser Peg (Virginia Gay) – whose comic timing is nothing short of incredible – take the world by storm with a never ending supply of wigs, music and initially, tea.
Choreographed by the constantly surprising Michael Ralph, who clearly enjoys keeping audiences on their toes, (pun intended) with his unique and vibrant creations that allow the performers to shine. Ralph finds a way to drive the plot within the movement of each “number” so far from being a distraction; the choreography is as pivotal as any word spoken.
Joined by an incredible ensemble cast, Elenoa Rokobaro as soul singer Reno brings so much talent and heart to the stage in her performance, as does the young Mary O’Brien, (Baylie Carson) whose presence in Dusty is felt whether on stage or off.
The 2016 production of Dusty is an incredible fun jaunt for the first act. Upon returning for the second act, things get dark and life takes some unexpected for the “good girl” Dusty. Whilst the darker moments are presented with respect and dignity to the story, it does make it difficult to suspend disbelief as the characters break into song during such a moment.
But perhaps that is the point. The healing power of music; and the child within all of us; egging us on to follow our dreams, regardless of how grandiose they may seem to others.
Dusty will have you humming the white lady of soul’s tunes for days and perhaps dusting off those old records for another spin, because there’s nothing quite like a trip down memory lane.
The Production Company presents
Dusty The Musical
Director Jason Langley
Venue: Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 12 November – 4 December 2016