DIVA TALK: Chatting With Forever Dusty Star Kirsten Holly Smith

By Andrew Gans
04 Jan 2013

Kirsten Holly Smith
Photo by Thom Kaine

Question: Going back to that first time that you performed at the Gardenia, were you performing in your own voice at that point or imitating Dusty Springfield's style?
Smith: I always had her style in mind when I was singing… But I stayed more true, I think, to my own sound. What is great about that is that my own sound is very similar to hers in a way. [Laughs.] Obviously, nobody can be Dusty Springfield, and I don't try to be. What I try to do is be an artist who interprets a character, and I don't want to imitate her exactly. It's more about finding a way to make this character truthful within my own set of skills. And, I think I've always kept that in mind… It's just me, as an artist, interpreting this character for people to keep her memory and her spirit alive, which I think is very important. You know, it's a strong story. She was such an important character, and she was a contemporary with the Beatles and with the Stones and Petula Clark… She was such a powerful and brilliant artist, and it's important for people to continue to know about her. Everybody knows who the Beatles and the Stones are, and I have to say, because I've been doing this for so long and asking people—not everybody knows her name, especially in America. In England, of course they do, but in America, not everybody knows who Dusty Springfield is.

Question: How did the idea come about to expand from the one-woman show to more of a traditional book musical?
Smith: There had actually been someone on board who was working on moving it, but it didn't work out. But in the interim while that was happening, [my writing partner and I] decided to write a screenplay, so we wrote a screenplay. That was a very large bio-musical, and it was a lot more research, even more in-depth research about anything and everything we could get our hands on… We didn't know that the stage production was going to happen, [but] we sort of kept chugging along and pushing forward, and we decided that the one-woman musical [wasn't] helping audiences know her. I mean, it did introduce them to her, but we did want to go deeper to explore the themes and explore the people in her life and what that meant. And, knowing more about her story, even more than we had before, we decided that that was the story that we wanted to tell—to allow Dusty to interact with other characters or other people—composite characters or people in her life—that were meaningful to her… It's better to take that approach…especially when you're talking about somebody's life. I think it's a more cohesive story. It's a stronger narrative. It's more highs and lows. I think that it just helps to tell the story. I think it's challenging in the format that we're doing it. It's a quick format—meaning it's about a 95-minute musical… We could have focused on one piece of her life for this musical, but I have never felt compelled to do that in this format because I feel like you're reintroducing a character that people aren't as familiar with. And, when you don't know a piece of her life, it's hard to understand the choices and the decisions that character makes. To have the empathy with them that I think an audience needs to have, especially with a big character like her, I think you have to have some basis of where she came from or what she did, and I always felt strongly about that. I didn't think that just touching on—say if we focused on a certain section of her life—was a functional way that tells the story that really pulls people in…

I really feel like our songs drive the narrative, so we're not just going, "Okay, we're going to sing now, and we're going to sing this hit that you know." I really feel that the songs do move the story forward, and that's always been my intention from the beginning, from the one-woman show, that's why I started to pick stories that would go with certain songs, and that the songs do take you to another place. At the end of the song, you're driven to another place.

 Continued...