Theatre Review: Dusty The Musical – Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne (until December 4)

The final show for The Production Company‘s 2016 season ended with a dazzling reincarnation of Dusty The Musical. The look, the legend and the music. Three attributes that describe this show in all its glory with an outstanding leading lady in Amy Lehpamer.

Over the years we have seen Lehpamer grow into the performer she is today, but what moves us more than her talents is her humility. Each role she undertakes is given new meaning and a newfound respect. Well, Dusty is no different. In 2006, this jukebox musical had its world premiere and 10 years later it is so incredible to see new life ingested into this classic.

Most people know of Dusty Springfield, or have heard of her catchy songs. While the storyline itself is a dramatisation based on events in Dusty’s life unveiling dark themes of alcoholism and loneliness, this truly is a celebration of her legacy. The show consists of 36 musical numbers, which is huge for any musical, and while we loved hearing them, it did seem to stretch on just a tad too long. Some trimming of the fat could have been explored.

Notably, the creative team curated an excellent cast to transport us back to the 60s including standout performances from Baylie Carson as Mary O’Brien, Todd McKenney as Rodney, Virginia Gay as Peg and Elenoa Rokobaro as Reno. This quartet, together with Ms Lehpamer, are what gave this show heart. Nothing speaks louder than the close bond of family and friendship, and given the difficult and relenting childhood young Mary O’Brien experienced, it was wonderful to see the shared values of music and love between them all.

The tender moments shared between young Mary O’Brien and her future self of Ms Dusty Springfield were very carefully crafted. Dusty’s soul was well and truly alive in Mary, and to see them side by side growing together was nothing short of sublime. No pair of actors could have portrayed such delicacies and it is a testament to themselves for opening up in this way. Dusty’s romantic life was also explored with her one true love, Reno. In any day and age love is hard, but to see the extreme highs and extreme lows of it were not only confronting, but saddening. Lehpamer and Rokobaro were incredibly respectful of this notion and showed just how powerful love can be when in a world of extreme prejudice.

As the show rolled into song after song it did get us grooving in our seats, especially when hits like ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, ‘Little By Little’, ‘Dancing in the Street’, ‘Wishin’ and Hopin”, ‘The Look of Love’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, and ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ blasted through. The simplistic and era-appropriate choreography from Michael Ralph has once again solidified his position in this industry, and is a force to be reckoned with. Match that with the beautiful direction by Jason Langley, and fantastic musical direction by Michael Tyack, and this trio is a powerhouse creative dream team.

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Dusty The Musical is playing at the Playhouse in Melbourne until December 4. For tickets and more info, head here.

The reviewer attended the show on opening night, Saturday November 12th.

Photo credit: Jeff Busby