New York A WPA Theatre presentation of a musical in two
acts by Oliver Goldstick. Directed by David Petrarca. Choreographed
by George Faison. Orchestrations, arrangements, Jason Robert Brown.
Musical direction, Lanny Hartley.
Set, Michael Yeargan; lighting, Stephen Strawbridge; costumes, Paul
Tazewell; sound, Laura Grace Brown; stage manager; Paul J. Smith,
Artistic director, Kyle Renick. opened March 24th 1998. Reviewed
March 22nd. Running time 2 hrs. 15 mins.
by ROBERT DANIELS
The latest entry in an Off Broadway season peppered with celebrity
musical bios, "Dinah Was" keenly hits the right notes.
The often turbulent episodic life of singer Dinah Washington is
structured with a persuasive narrative and a markedly honest and
vibrant performance by Yvette Freeman.
Incorporating familiar songs from the singers career, the homage
covers a 20-year span in the life of Washington (Freeman), from
humble beginnings as a Chicago church soloist to national prominence
as the "Queen of the Blues". Hit recordings in the field
of rhythm and blues to her final days and acclaim as a major crossover
artist and club attraction, singing lush romantic ballads.
Beginning in the lobby of a Vegas hotel in 1959, Washington, wrapped
in a white fur coat and setting on her luggage, defiantly refuses
to accept accommodations in an outdoor trailer located beyond
the kitchen entry. Casino entry is barred unless she is accompanied
by a white escort. Now a major star, with a her name emblazoned
out front, the singer takes a firm stand against a decade of racial
indignities and career disappointments and refuses to perform.
Oliver Goldsticks tightly woven book does not paint a flattering
portrait of the vocalist, but manages to tell the story without
unnecessary clutter. The music reveals the soul of the artist,
and and the harsh reality of Washington's despair is poignantly
realized with "This Bitter Earth". In flashbacks, the
story follows a rocky path of fame. Conflicts with record producers,
booking agents, and hotel managers reveal Washington as an abrasive,
In search for companionship and affection, she leaves several
husbands behind, humiliates temporary lovers, and suffers a tentative
relationship with her children. Driven to alcohol and the constant
abuse of diet pills, Washington dies at the age of 39.
Freeman invests in the role with a sassy and earthy thrust. There
is no attempt to copy the sweet, nasal tone of the real Washington.
Freeman offers her own gutsy rhythm and blues swing flavor, adding
a fervent sense of ballads. The trademark tunes "What a Difference
a Day Makes", "I Wanna Be Loved" and "I Won't
Cry Anymore" are not just rendered as juke box nostalgia,
but become a integral part of the narrative...
"ER's" Yvette Freeman reprises her Obie Award-winning
role as Dinah Washingon in Oliver Goldstick's musical biography
of the self-described "Queen of the Blues." Dinah Was explodes
with the rhythms, tough breaks, and tender notes that fired the
life and music of this passionate performer. Features "What a
Diff'rence a Day Makes," "I Wanna Be Loved," "Come Rain or Come
Shine" and many other songs rendered unforgettable by Washington's
Gordon Hunt directs the original off Broadway cast,
including Freeman, Lanny Hartley, Adriane Lenox (who also received
an Obie for her performance), Bud Leslie, and Darryl Alan Reed.
The show was broadcasted on KPCC 89.3 FM and XM