Friday, February 3, 2017

Forever Dusty—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

The Dusty Trail

The West Coast premiere of this musical bio of Dusty Springfield is written by Kirsten Holly Smith & Jonathan Vankin, directed by Donald Horn (Artistic Director for Triangle) and Musical Director, Jonathan Quesenberry.  It plays at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (parking is free in the lot next to the bldg.), through February 25th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

I must confess, although I had heard the name and was familiar with some of the songs she sang, I really didn’t know anything about Springfield.  She was a popular singer during my Youth, the 60’s & 70’s (yes, I do remember the 60’s) and I was there during the social revolution, but I was more into the folk singers of that era.  And so, somehow, she slipped through the cracks for me.

Becoming acquainted with her via this play, I didn’t realize what an icon she was.  Here was a young, white girl from England who was in love with the Black music experience.  Not only that, but she had a lover (named Clare in this play) and eventually proclaimed her bi-sexuality, proving one thing most clearly, she was her own person, knew what she liked and nobody was going to stop her!

Mary, later Dusty (Leah Yorkston), was educated in a repressive Catholic girls’ school in England and soon discovered that being a singer or entertainer was not considered God-like.  It was her brother Dion, later Tom (Dave Cole), that believed in her and her talent.  He put her in his newly formed band, The Springfield’s as the lead singer, gave her the name “Dusty,” and from there she grew.

It wasn’t long before she was noticed by agents, producers and recording labels but it was Dusty, as a solo, they wanted and she was soon to find out that breaking off with her brother was only one of the many trials and tribulations she was to encounter on her journey to stardom.  The Black music also drew her to the South, where she immersed herself in that music scene, in Memphis.  Producers and recording studios were not crazy about the “crossover” music she was singing but the critics seemed to love her.  It came to a head in South Africa when she refused to play to only all-white audiences.

But she made headlines and future producers, Becky (Tasha Danner) and Jerry (Gary Wayne Cash) decided to take a chance on her.  She also had found a lover in Claire (Kayla Dixon) and their long relationship would go through many twists and turns as the years went on.  She recorded music in The Big Apple but eventually sought alcohol and drugs, a common refuge for stars in demand, when they are depressed and stressed, and soon moved to LA.  She had achieved the stardom she sought but at a price to her personal life and health.  Eventually she went home to England where she died in 1999.  Her fans still remember her for the progressive inroads she made in her business, and life, as she is…“Forever Dusty.”

Although I admit to not recognizing her music back then, it certainly strikes a chord now, as it highlights and reflects her life.  And Yorkston is a powerhouse when exploring the dreams, hopes and hurts of such a talented lady.  Her renditions of “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Crumbs Off the Table,” “I Just Don’t Know What to do with Myself,” “Quiet Please There’s a Lady Onstage,” “I Found My Way,” and “Don’t Forget About Me” are my favorites and, put in perspective of her own life, are also very revealing as to who she was and what she believed.  She certainly succeeded as a “crossover” singer and aided others on this rocky road to their own successes.  Yorkston is perfect as both the singer, as her voice soars, and an actress, as you truly feel for the character through her!

Equally good is Dixon, both as an actress and singer.  Early on she does a medley of songs popular from that birthing era of Black music and she is terrific.  She does some duets with Yorkston and they are an amazing team together.  She is also a fine actress and the explosive, as well as the tender, scenes between the two of them are very powerful.  I applaud them both, with the rest of the cast, including Sarah DeGrave in background roles, a very impressive talent in her own right.

Horn has kept the settings simple, so as to focus on the music and story.  His love of musical legends and social inroads seems boundless, as I am always educated, as well as entertained, by his productions.  “May he live long and prosper!”  Quesenberry is his long-time musical collaborator on his shows and the final product seems seamless as these two ole pros manage to create Magic every time!

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.