Pictured: Kirsten Holly Smith and Christina Sajous in 'Forever Dusty' / Photo by Joan Marcus
Most of think we know who Dusty Springfield is, based mostly on the hits: "Son of a Preacher Man" and the masterpiece album, Dusty in Memphis. But in the bio-musical Forever Dusty,
created by Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin and currently playing Off-Broadway at New World Stages, it hits home how little most of us know about the blond hitmaker. Although she soared in the '60s, her personal story was long forgotten, along with her music--until the Pet Shop Boys recorded "What Have I Done to Deserve This" in the '80s, returning her to the top of the charts for the first time in decades.
Smith sings with distinction, without sinking into parody and, on one level, Forever Dusty is a purely entertaining vehicle to enjoy songs in an historical context. The bravest decision that Smith made in presenting Springfield's story, however, was to present her love for women without apology. The fact that her most profound romance presented in the musical is with an African-American woman, named Claire and played by the standout Christina Sajous, still seems even more radical, although easily accepted by audiences.
"There hasn't been a play with an interacial gay relationship, a lesbian relationship that's interracial, on the New York stage before," Smith explains. "Not one that stands out. What's funny to me now is the audience doesn't seem very phased by it when they see it."
Smith has been living with Springfield's story for years now as she has developed this latest version of the production. She says she thinks Springfield was so outspoken about apartheid and other civil rights projects of her time because she was unable to express herself in regard to gay issues. Sajous, who plays a composite character of Springfield's lovers, is a standout in the production.
"It started as a one-woman show," Smith explains. "But there's so many people who were behind Dusty. I don't think she stood alone, and it's just a more effective way to tell her story. It also honors the people in her life; she was all about honoring the people in her life."
Smith admits that she has worked on a screenplay of Springfield's story and would love to have the opportunity to play her in a movie if possible. "It would allow us to reach even more people with this story," she says. "It's a way for people to know who she is and honor who she is. It would be an absolute dream come true."