Katherine Kingsley steals the show as the blue-eyed soul singer in Jonathan Harvey's new musical DUSTY

Katherine Kingsley as Dusty and Roberta Taylor as Kay in DUSTY

Katherine Kingsley as Dusty and Roberta Taylor as Kay in DUSTY. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Katherine Kingsley steals the show as the blue-eyed soul singer in Jonathan Harvey’s new musical DUSTY

Few singers are as loved, revered and fondly remembered as Dusty Springfield. But behind the hits, the hair and the husky voice was a complex and troubled artist as Jonathan Harvey’s new musical DUSTY demonstrates.

Drawing on personal memories of those who knew her best, DUSTY is a warts-and-all biography tracing the highs and lows of the legendary British singer. The musical shines a torch on Dusty’s stubborn perfectionism, sexuality, alcoholism and consuming feelings of rivalry to ask what made Dusty Dusty – and what dragged her down.

Maria Friedman’s production opens not at the start of Dusty’s life or career, but midway through. As a TV audience waits patiently for their idol to deliver a powerhouse performance on live TV, Dusty is having a crisis of confidence in the bathroom. It is this very insight that makes Harvey’s emotionally charged biopic so powerful as we get our first glimpse behind the woman beneath the wigs, sequins and mascara.

From then, the musical skips at a rapid pace between different scenes and decades, from Dusty’s troubled relationship with her undermining mother Kay to her love life, her struggles with various addictions, her near-tragic fall from grace and her 1987 revival thanks to the Pet Shop Boys.

Joanna Francis as Louis and Katherine Kingsley as Dusty in DUSTY.

Joanna Francis as Louis and Katherine Kingsley as Dusty in DUSTY. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Here, Friedman and Harvey weave hits from Dusty’s extensive back catalogue organically into the story. A passionate rendition of YOU DON’T OWN ME is belted out as Dusty is deported from Cape Town in 1964 for refusing to sing to segregated audiences. THE LOOK OF LOVE becomes the soundtrack to a beautiful seduction with her long-term lover Louis, while I CLOSE MY EYES is performed hypnotically in a sultry, drug-addled haze.

Much of the success of show lies in Katherine Kingsley’s outstanding performance as the blue-eyed soul singer. Not only does she capture Dusty’s extraordinary vocals and style, but also convincingly portrays her self-absorption, self-doubt and strive for perfection.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Joanna Francis is fabulous as Louis, the woman so deeply in love with Dusty that she puts her career on hold to be with her. Roberta Taylor is deliciously vile as Springfield’s mother Kay while Rufus Hound is affably shrewd as her manager Billings.

Yet while the story moves at a rapid pace, the final scenes are dragged out too much and the video footage of Dusty’s funeral in 1999, while poignant, is repeated, giving the impression it has been added purely to fill time.

Katherine Kingsley as Dusty Springfield in DUSTY

Katherine Kingsley as Dusty Springfield in DUSTY. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The production is also hampered by some underwritten characters, most notably Pat (Esther Coles) and Ruby (Ella Kenion) as Dusty’s loyal long-term friends who, while essential to the piece, are quickly stereotyped as a comedy duo.

That said, there is plenty to like here with Tom Pye’s sixties pop art aesthetic set and Tim Jackson’s choreography, particularly in the Pet Shop Boys’ WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS routine both standing out for their energy and enthusiasm.

But ultimately the show belongs to Kingsley’s whose captivating performance as Dusty wins you over, resulting in a standing ovation. If you weren’t a fan of Dusty Springfield before, you certainly will be now.

(4 / 5)

DUSTY runs at The Lowry until 28 July 2018

About Donna

Donna is the Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she is a digital marketing whizz, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage, The Public Reviews and ScreenRelish. Loves Shakespeare, prosecco and Formula 1