Yet another entry in the tired biomusical genre, Forever Dusty chronicles the updos and downs of white British soul singer Dusty Springfield, whose career spanned the 1950s to the ’90s. Celebrated for her sultry vocals and over-the-top mod style, the chanteuse had a drama-filled personal life, including struggles with drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation and sexual orientation (though she’s considered a gay icon, interviews prove she was quite conflicted about being labeled a lesbian).
Despite having so many authentic facets to work with, writers Jonathan Vankin and Kirsten Holly Smith (the latter plays the diva) chose to fictionalize a good part of her story, inventing a serious girlfriend, African-American journalist Claire (Sajous, playing a composite character) and messing with chronologies. Such liberties could be forgiven if they made for compelling theater, but by trying to cram every single high and low point into a fabricated narrative, the show ends up feeling rushed and by-the-numbers, except for when the characters sing.
Smith—a truly gifted vocalist who’s been playing Springfield in various incarnations of this material since 2008—doesn’t aim for a spot-on impression. Instead, she captures the late star’s essence and emotionality in both her well-known hits (“Son of a Preacher Man,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’ ”) and more obscure tunes. The vibrant Sajous matches Smith in strength and nuance, and the four-man band provides solid backup. If the creators cut most of the dialogue, Forever Dusty could really sing.—Raven Snook