May 14-20, 2004


DINAH WAS * PICK OF THE WEEK *

The was of the title may be short for Washington, and it may be in the past tense, but when Yvette Freeman cuts loose as the pop diva, she's most decidedly present: Dinah Is! Freeman is a powerhouse in her own right, whether she's being reflective in "What a Difference the Day Makes," haunting in "I Wanna Be Loved (With Inspiration)" or down and dirty with "Long John Blues." Oliver Goldstick's tight script doesn't whitewash the legendary Dinah, whose arrogance and paranoia drove away those she loved. After starting as a church singer, she moved on to R&B (then known as "race music"). She became "Queen of the Blues," a crossover success in mainstream pop and the first black woman to headline on the Las Vegas strip (though she still had to enter the Sahara by the back door). Freeman punctuates the story with 13 finely rendered signature songs, Paul Avedisian and Peter Van Norden provide able support as her white supporters and nemeses, Darryl Alan Reed scores high marks as two of Dinah's lovers and Sybyl Walker transforms a handful of small roles into a star turn. Director Caryn Desai serves up script and songs with a sleek, sure hand on Tom Buderwitz's fine set, and Lanny Hartley's musical direction is terrific. International City Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 23. (562) 436-4610. (Neal Weaver)