I didn’t know anything about Dusty Springfield, and I’m not a big fan of the musical genre, but I am a fan of Amy Hunt’s powerful theatre vocals and Ian Harman’s directing so I rocked up to Dusty at the Auditorium on Centennial Drive on opening night expecting some good entertainment.
Well with quite a large stage to work with the set was underwhelming, in fact I wondered whether they had simply run out of time, or were running late and were going to set up while the audience got seated. As I sat down there was nothing to gaze upon but a dusty old stage with some stacked chairs and metal props lying about. I soon realised that this was the magic of director Ian Harman who managed with tricks of light and sound and a minimal use of props brought on and off the stage, to create scene after scene full of life and naturally flowing. At times those props might have turned out as nothing but a chair and spotlight, and at others a mirror ball that filled the staged with dancing lights but each scene delivered everything required to evoke the senses and tell a story.
Amy Hunt starring as Dusty Springfield burst onto the scene with her strong soulful vocals immediately bringing Dusty to life, and man she nailed some showstoppers throughout the night. If you are a Dusty fan you will be delighted with Amy’s honest and heartfelt renditions.
The journey through Dusty’s rise to stardom starts at her childhood with Hannah Sandbrook playing the plain, tomboy, red head, child version of Dusty. She pops in and out of the story as part of Dusty’s sub conscience and plays a solid yet tender role. There is surprise after surprise in this musical as this autobiographical story reveals aspects of Dusty’s past that many (including myself) were unaware of. From a difficult relationship with her family, a brother that also found fame in the music industry, to her sexuality and alcoholism this show was a tumultuous journey - much like Dusty’s life. There was a real breathing in and breathing out feeling to the movement of the show as the audience experiences the highs and lows of life as Dusty.
Amy Hunt sparkled on stage as Dusty and performed an outstanding job of portraying the emotions of the journey in a beautiful and respectful way. But there was more than one star of this show, and man did I get goose bumps when Erica Ward hit the stage as Dusty’s love interest Reno. The chemistry between these two was adorable and with the two of them combining their singing powers we were truly spoilt for enjoyment. Erica’s performance was confident, strong, admirable, bloody outstanding, I got emotional watching her and Amy together, my eyes wetted themselves just a little, and in a particular scene (not too many spoilers) I wanted to stand up and yell ‘no, don’t do it Reno, please! Clearly I got carried away in the emotion of it all...
Thank goodness there was some comic relief provided by Dusty’s loyal stylists and supportive friends the dynamic duo Rodney, and Peg played by Read Wheeler and Candace Higgie whose comic timing was ‘on point’. It was nice to take the refreshing moments provided by these two to have a laugh and also to illustrate the safe haven they provided in Dusty’s life. There were also the three mysterious lady back-up singers played by Tia Rongokea, Tessa Satherly and Victoria Owen, who demurely provided vocal support to Dusty’s performances. Their reliable presence provided a sort of reassuring constancy to the show, not to mention great vocals.
A cameo appearance by director Ian Harman in Dusty drag was utterly delightful and unexpected. He seemed to levitate above the floor boards and danced energetically on heels in a way that I could not even achieve in flats. So many performances by this cast were excellent – local music teacher Kirsten Clark and PNBHS teacher Chris Burton as Dusty’s religious and uptight parents played believable and enjoyable roles. Ian Ball’s performance of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ featuring Dusty Springfield (who knew?) was a surprise and expertly delivered.
A strong cast deliver an exceptional performance in this autobiographical Musical about legend Dusty Springfield. Ian Harman is a magician who subtly casts a spell over his audience and brings out the best in his performers. While I’m not a big fan of musicals, I love a good story and this story was sung into my soul. I wish I could name the full cast here as the extras too were extraordinarily good. This gets a big thumbs up from me, and judging by the roaring applause last night, I’m not the only one who thinks so.