For Ronne Arnold, accepting the offer to co-choreography Bankstown Theatrical Societies production of Dusty – The Original Pop Divawas an easy decision to make.
The renowned choreographer and performer was all too familiar with the source material for the show, having worked with the legendary singer Dusty Springfield on several occasions during her many visits to Australia in the 1960s.
Ronne first met the Dusty in 1964, when he was choreographer and director at the Chequers Theatre Restaurant in Sydney where she performed for four weeks. They worked together again in the late 60s when his friend and Dusty hairdresser John Adams, who he introduced to Dusty on her first Australian tour, rang from London to secure Ronne’s services to choreograph her at the Silver Space Room at the Sydney Chevron Hotel.
“As a performer Dusty was warm, funny and wonderful. She had a unique quality of wit and charm that endeared her to all who saw her performances,” said Ronne.
“She had a beautiful child like appeal with a deep sense of adult drama and understanding of human desires, feelings and disappointments. She was a teller of stories that took you on a journey of life. All her songs such had a message and she interpreted them with ease and passion.”
The musical of her life, featuring her hits such as ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ and ‘Only Want To Be With You’, originated In Australia. Written by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow, the show premiered at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre in 2006. This year a number of musical societies across Australia are presenting the show, with Bankstown Theatrical Societies production the first for Sydney Community Theatre.
“Dusty’s career and life has all the elements that make a good story, with music that crosses all borders and a similar unique lifestyle to another famed female performer, the late Judy Garland,” said Ronne.
“She was a frightened individual with many complex issues that prevented her from working through situations that a lot of people would almost take in their stride. She appeared to tussle with some deep rooted demons that made her, at times, distant and very lonely. This was due in great part to her childhood and family life, which is explored in the stage show.”
Directing the Bankstown production is Diane Wilson, Musical Direction by Greg Crease with Edward Rooke sharing choreographing duties with Ronne.
“The cast is extremely lucky to have Ronne Arnold as co-choreographer,” said Diane.
“Ronne worked with so many great performers including Dusty, Cilla Black and many pop singers of that era. He is a font of knowledge, not only about the style of choreography, but the era as well.”
Stepping into the famed shoes of the singer is recent graduate from the Australian Institute of Music (AIM), Amy Toledano.
“Ronne has been incredible,” she said.
“The way he knew Dusty is something that has helped me so much in the rehearsal period. He knows exactly when I’m straying off the path of staying true to her and always tells me when to pull back or give more because he knows exactly when she would do so. He has taught me about staying true to a character and to always stand up straight, just like Dusty did!”
Ronne believes audiences will embrace Amy in the role of Dusty, plus the rest of the cast of the show, just as much as the Australian public did for Dusty during her career.
“I guess one could say that the Australian public saw her as a fantastic achiever. She was one of the world’s top female pop artists and a popular rock and roller, as well as a popular soul singer, in a time where that was the sole domain of black Afro-America,” he said.
“Her fight for human rights, like the crisis in South Africa and her smooth soft like mainstream style also appealed. She had it all, and embraced a large cross section of all music lovers.
Born in Philadelphia, USA, Ronne Arnold came to Australia in 1960 to appear in the musical West Side Story. He founded the Australian Contemporary Dance Company, later the Contemporary Dance Company of Australia and has been heavily involved in Indigenous Australian dance including work with the Bangarra Dance and as academic course director at the National Director of the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA). He also performed in the original Australian productions of A Chorus Line, La Cage Aux Folles and more recently Dirty Dancing. Dusty marks his second outing with Bankstown Theatrical Society having choreographed last year’s production of Miss Saigon.
Dusty plays at the Bankstown Town Hall Theatre from Friday, May 28 until Saturday, June 5. Bookings: (02) 9676 1191.