The career and songs of influential British pop singer Dusty Springfield come to life in Manhattan Feb. 18-22 in a new cabaret musical, Dusty Springfield: See All Her Faces, created by and starring Susann Fletcher.
The music-filled evening at The Triad includes some of the late Springfield's great hits, including "Wishin' and Hopin'" and "Son of a Preacher Man," musical-directed by John Samorian, with two keyboards and drums. Fletcher's ultimate goal with the show is a fuller Off-Broadway staging.
Backing up Fletcher (and helping to move the plot along) are Catherine Marsh and Claci Miller. Fletcher, a veteran of such Broadway musicals as The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Jerome Robbins' Broadway, recently came off the scuttled first national tour of The Full Monty, in which she played Georgie Bukatinsky. She was nominated for a National Broadway Theatre Award for playing Dolly Tate in the national tour of Annie Get Your Gun.
See All Her Faces — which is also the title of a Springfield tune — is an intimate musical biography that explores Springfield's professional life (she was a white woman who brought Motown moves and an R&B-flecked sound to the U.K.) and personal life (she came out as a bisexual as early as 1970, and would struggle with mental illness, substance abuse and cancer in her later life).
"My agents, friends and peers had been after me for quite a few years to do a one woman show but I had never really come across anything that blew my skirt up enough for me to be willing to devote the enormous time, passion and energy required," Fletcher told Playbill On-Line. "I didn't want to do something about me at all. But, as I continued to dig, I found that I did want to create a show about Dusty Springfield." Fletcher knew of Springfield, but not at length. She came across a TV program about Springfield's life and was fascinated by the singer's look, sound and the story. "How could I have missed this woman?" Fletcher said. "I have very strong remembrances of most of the music from that era and I had absolutely loved Petula Clark when I was a girl."
The openly gay Fletcher was also astonished that she had never known through the gay community that Springfield was one of the first pop culture figures to be out of the closet.
Fletcher penned the new show using public accounts of Springfield's life — poring over newspaper clippings and magazine articles.
"As much as possible, I have tried to use direct quotes from the myriad of newspaper, magazine and television interviews that she gave during her life," Fletcher said. "She had a great way with a phrase and wonderful honesty and humor. It's not something that I could really improve upon."
The show includes such songs as "Goin' Back," "I Only Want to Be With You," "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "Summer Is Over," "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten," "I've Been Wrong Before," "The Look of Love," "Son of a Preacher Man," "See All Her Faces," "Sweet Ride," "Magic Garden," "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today," "In Private," "Time and Time Again," "Don't Forget About Me" and "Beautiful Soul."
"The music creates the timeline and helps to weave her story," Fletcher said. "Dusty's songs sit in my voice very well and yet we have very different voices. My voice tends to cut through the air, her voice is the air. I have learned so much about singing from studying her recordings. She approaches a song the same way Jerry Robbins demanded that you approach a character or dance. Every note is mapped out and yet nothing ever sounds calculated. It comes from the gut. Dusty had incredible taste in music, amazing music, dramatic music, difficult music," said Fletcher. "The kind of music that a musical theatre veteran like myself fairly itches to sing."
Is the show an impersonation act?
"While I may be donning the blonde wig, big eyelashes and the outfits, I am not trying to imitate her, but represent her," Fletcher explained. "I think there is a huge difference. The show includes many of her hit songs but also some rather obscure ones. Ultimately, Dusty's legacy is her music but her story is so interesting that I think it deserves a closer look."
Fletcher said she hopes Dusty Springfield: See All Her Faces "will satisfy the devotee and spread the word for those who somehow missed this gem of an artist. Her life, intensely private, complex, controversial, with professional and emotional ups and downs and a larger than life persona... touched me on a visceral level."
Springfield recorded "Dusty in Memphis" in 1968, and Rolling Stone includes on its list of the most influential albums of all time. The Pet Shop Boys reintroduced Springfield to a new generation with the success of three songs, recorded between 1985 and 1988: "What Have I done to Deserve This," "Scandal" and "In Private." She started to record again when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. She died in England in 1999. Shortly before her death, she received the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth. She was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two weeks after her death. Elton John accepted the award on behalf of her family.
Performances of Dusty Springfield: See All Her Faces are 9:30 PM Feb. 18 and 7:30 PM Feb. 19, 21 and 22. The Triad is at 158 W. 72nd Street between Broadway and Columbus. Cover charge is $15, and there is a two-drink minimum. For reservations, call (212) 362-2590.
— By Kenneth Jones