This show is certainly one for the 60s swingers, taking us on the journey of Mary O’Brien, a young starry-eyed hopeful, to become the world’s “White Queen of Soul”. As the audience settled into the Whitehorse Centre, there was a noticeable representation of baby boomers in the crowd, ready to experience the music of the iconic British star who propelled herself to stardom and gave us some of the most memorable hits of the 1960s and 70s.
Clean settings by Jacob Batista prepared us for the quality of the production from the get-go. This was swiftly backed up by the immaculate costumes put together by Leone Campbell. Not only were the costumes key to demonstrating the 50-odd year timeline of the piece, they were well fitted and flattering on the cast who wore them – a detail that is rarely given priority in amateur productions.
Lighting by Daniel Gosling was professional and aided well in setting the scene, particularly those set live onstage in concert. The sound was also of a professional standard. The quality of sound can bring a show down but it wasn’t the case for Steve Cooke’s design, which was flawlessly carried out throughout the show.
Direction by Christian Cavallo was deliberate and precise; however, sometimes lacked the spontaneity with which actors are able to truly inhabit their characters in a believable way. With a strong flair for the melodramatic, Cavallo played significantly into the drama of the piece, leaving audiences grasping at every moment of light.
Jessica Mohi did a brilliant job with the talent on hand. Playing to their strengths, the cast were showcased well and the choreography was always carried out to a high standard with energy and finesse.
Musical direction by Stacey-Louise Camilleri was integral to this show. The band were spot on and helped to lift the standard of the production. The ensemble vocals were tight and many of the principal performers hit the mark vocally at every turn.
In the past, Emily McKenzie has startled me with her epic vocals and authentic acting; however, this role did not play as well to her strengths. The melodramatic interpretation of Dusty Springfield made it difficult for the audience to sympathise with the falling star and, while moments of richness shone through in her vocals, the musical style seemed to compromise the sound she was able to produce. That said, this is a big role and she led the cast of 26 commendably.
Sarahlouise Younger played and outstanding Reno, Dusty’s lover. Her vocals were not only consistent but seriously impressive, and her portrayal of the second-string star was a highlight of the show. It would be a crime were she not nominated for a Brick for Best Supporting Actress.
Zachary Alaimo and Ashley Taylor played Dusty’s charming sidekick duo, keeping her sane on the road and providing much needed comic relief from the dramatic overtones of Dusty’s troubled life. Taylor, in particular, played a faultless Peg and, bringing her own quirk to the role, was both quaint and loveable.
However, despite solid performances across the board from the adult cast, the evening really was a showcase for emerging talent. Phoebe Bourke, who played the youthful Mary O’Brien, the enduring voice of Dusty’s childhood, was an absolute stand out, with clean vocals and an intelligent interpretation of the role. Bourke is only 13 years old, and with a talent that exceeds her years, it’s clear she is destined for great things.
Slightly older at 17, Michael Syme played a strong Tom Springfield showing off his ability to hold a tight harmony and flexing his solid acting chops. In addition, he also took on the role of Neil Tennant, a role that allowed him to display his strong comedic acting.
All in all, this production was of a very high calibre and those who love the music of Dusty Springfield would not be disappointed in their evening at the theatre. Dusty – The Original Pop Diva is playing at the Whitehorse Centre in Nunawading until 20th October. Don’t miss out!