Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Auckland Arts Festival: Dust to Dusky hits high notes

Tami Neilson is one of four local vocalists who take on Dusty Springfield tunes in Dust to Dusky at the Auckland Arts Festival. Photo / supplied
Tami Neilson is one of four local vocalists who take on Dusty Springfield tunes in Dust to Dusky at the Auckland Arts Festival. Photo / supplied

What: Dust to Dusky, until Saturday

Where: Performed in the Spiegeltent in Aotea Square as part of the Auckland Arts Festival

Reviewed by: Lydia Jenkin

Bringing together the songs of Dusty Springfield with four powerful local vocalists, a red-hot band, and a story that loosely threads together Springfield's remarkably mad life, Dust to Dusky was a glorious evening of entertainment.

In the hands of lesser musicians and singers, it could have been ropey, but Colleen Davis, Bella Kalolo, Anna Coddington, and Tami Neilson all shone with their knock-out interpretations of Springfield's many hits, and the four-piece band lead by musical director Steph Brown delivered the often complex songs with panache.

Davis effectively played the ghost of Dusty past, and pulled the sold out audience into her story with pithy phrases, almost like diary entries, detailing her inner turmoil and difficult life, and giving context to the songs, which rolled out in chronological order. She had the right blend of smoky and sweet for The Windmills of Your Mind, before explaining her early childhood - the volatile family dynamics, food fights at the dinner table, self-harming, and how she saw music as a means of escape.

That provided an emotional context for Kalolo, Coddington, and Neilson to launch into I Only Want To Be With You, with Neilson leading the strident, upbeat rock 'n' roll-ish tune like a pro.

They moved into Island of Dreams (Neilson), and Davis explained a little more about the realities of how tough going it was trying to start a career, before Kalolo delivered a version of Wishin' and Hopin' full of humour and lightness, with Coddington and Neilson as perfect doo-wop girls. There was also a great three-way dynamic to In The Middle of Nowhere, which also introduced a bit of Springfield sass.

Coddington had the perfect tenderness and vulnerability to belt out a goosebump-inducing Anyone Who Had A Heart, which was given all the more poignancy with Davis' introduction talking of Springfield's dualities, and the fact she felt she had to hide her true self.

And so it went on, hit after hit, rousing performance after rousing performance. It was spell-binding to hear these beloved songs performed with so much heart, and given such clever emotional context.

Coddington's The Look of Love and Kinda Groovy were highlights, as was Kalolo's Tina Turner-esque delivery of Son of a Preacher Man, and Neilson's potent, compelling version of I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself, as well as Davis' yearning rendition of You Don't Have To Say You Love Me.

Each of the four women brought a different defining vocal quality to the show, which made it feel rich and varied. They blended and wove their talents in a mutually appreciative fashion, and it was clear they were having a ball on stage (aside from a few early opening night nerves which quickly disappeared). You'll undoubtedly want to head out and track down some of their own music after the show, just as much as you'll want to go home and throw on some Dusty Springfield.

- NZ Herald

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