Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Palm Springs / Coachella Valley

Bonnie G. Channels a Different Kind of Mid-Century Modern in
The Look of Love: The Music of Dusty Springfield

Interview by Robert Sokol

Bonnie G.
Photo by courtesy of Bonnie G. Productions
Active on the Desert performing scene for over two decades, singer-actor-producer-coach Bonnie G. will show local audiences The Look of Love at Revolution Stage Company this Friday. Joined by singer Gregg Marx and musicians Mark S. Kahny, Gilbert Hansen, and Jay Lewis, the performers are bringing a cabaret-sized highlights reel from the career of the swinging sixties pop icon Dusty Springfield to the home of mid-century modern.

A charting artist on both sides of the Atlantic, Springfield's canon ran from blue-eyed soul and pop ballads to French chanson, country, and jazz. She was best known for her glamourous on-stage persona and highly emotive singing. "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and "Son of a Preacher Man" are signature songs among her many hits.

Host of the Broadway revue series Razzle Dazzle and the digital radio The Desert Scene, Bonnie G.–for Gilgallon–is looking forward to the chance to "fan girl" the legendary singer.

Robert Sokol: What drew you to the work and life of Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien–aka Dusty Springfield?

Bonnie G: Clifford Belle, who is an L.A. cabaret producer-director, looked at me one day and said, "You know, you really should do Dusty Springfield. You look a little bit like her and there's some vocal similarity. I think you should do a cabaret show, and I'll direct it." I said, "Okay."

So, I did some research, read her biography, and watched a documentary on her. Of course, I've always loved her music, but I found she was a really interesting woman who had a very interesting life, some of it very sad. She had a lot of ups and a lot of downs, but the music always pulled her through.

RS: How do you describe Dusty's musical style?

BG: One of the things that kept coming up in the both the book and the documentary was vulnerability. I think that's one of the things that drew people to her. Somebody once said when you went to see her you were always rooting for her, and sometimes you weren't sure if she was going to make it through the song. She had vocal problems from time to time and her voice got tired easily, but she always put her heart and soul into whatever she was singing. I think that's one of the things that I love about her, and I try to do that.

RS: There have been at least two scripted tribute concert-slash-biography musicals on Dusty's life, one in the U.K. and one in Australia. Are you familiar with either of them?

BG: Not really. I heard that there were shows like that out there, but I'm not really familiar with them.

RS: What's the approach of your production? What's the focal point?

BG: Well, it's just a one-hour cabaret show. We're kind of telling her story, at least the outline of her story with the music as the sort of backdrop. It's a lot of her hits, though you couldn't do all of them or it would be a four-hour show. There will be a few things that people might not be as familiar with that she recorded.

RS: What are some of your personal favorites among her repertoire?

BG: Well, obviously, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" is a big one. One that people might not have known that she recorded, unless you really followed her career, was Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away," which is one of my favorites. I've studied French for a long time and there's a whole French verse, so I really like doing that one as well.

RS: Her success really seesawed back and forth from the U.K. to the U.S. Things that were hits there didn't make it here. Things that were hits here didn't make it there. Why do you think that is?

BG: I'm not sure, but I do know in reading her biography and on the documentary that one of the things that compelled her to come to the U.S. and move to Los Angeles for a few years was that she was really being hounded by the British press about her sexuality. It was really tormenting her. In the sixties, it wasn't nearly as accepted for a female pop star to be either bisexual or gay, so she kind of danced around it for a while. Eventually she came out and said she was bisexual. When she moved to Los Angeles, she was signed with a management company that didn't quite know what to do with her, with her talent, with her voice. So, she didn't work a lot during that time and kind of got bored. That's when she kind of got involved in drugs and booze. She became very depressed and put herself in a psychiatric institute at one point and was suicidal. She eventually went back to England and not too long after that she was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, which is what ultimately killed her.

RS: Would you include her in a celestial support group with Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin?

BG: I'm not sure about that, because early in her career she never did anything more than drink a coke. If people would send her bottles of champagne backstage, they'd just pour them out or give them away. It wasn't really until she moved to L.A. that abusing drugs and booze became a problem. It wasn't like she started as a teenager, so I don't think I'd quite put her in the Amy Winehouse category.

RS: I read that Dusty was very involved in introducing Motown to British audiences.

BG: Yes, absolutely. She loved the Motown sound and was very drawn to Motown and Black performers. She did a television show called "Ready Steady Go!" in England early in her career and she brought them over. She really pushed. She had Smokey Robinson on and Martha and the Vandellas. She really loved the Motown sound. As sort of a side note to that, when she went to South Africa, she had in her contract that she would not perform for segregated audiences. It was very clear in her contract. She did a few concerts for unsegregated audiences and then they wanted her to do [a segregated one] and she said no. They were insisting on it so she cut the tour short, got on a plane with her band, and came home. It caused a lot of controversy, and some people thought it damaged her career, but she was very adamant about it.

RS: Good for her.

BG: Yeah.

RS: What do you feel is her legacy to the music industry?

BG: That's a great question. One of the things that that she talked about was she really created her persona. You see pictures of her she was very young, and she was a chubby redhead with glasses and not very glamorous. She just decided she wanted to be a pop star and said, "I had to recreate myself." She didn't like herself much and put on a mask and that's when the blonde beehive wigs and all the heavy mascara and eyeliner came. So, she created herself. She created the persona of Dusty Springfield, which was really interesting. A lot of performers do that. Once she did that, I think she was very true to herself and true to the kind of music she wanted to do. Apparently, she was very savvy musically. She would go into the studio and if she heard something off–a violin or drum going off–she'd ask what happened. She had a very educated ear musically.

RS: Do you think that caterpillar-to-butterfly self-creation is what made her so popular with drag queens?

BG: Absolutely. She even said that. She said, "I am a drag queen." She did the sparkly dresses and the big hair during an era where that wasn't necessarily in vogue for female pop stars, but that was her look and she stuck with it.

RS: What impression of Dusty do you hope people take away with them after your performance?

BG: The sense of her being real, being vulnerable, being a woman who had ups and downs and insecurities like all of us do. Someone who decided this is what I want to do: I want to sing. I know I have a voice. I'm gonna be a pop star. I'm gonna recreate myself, and I'm going to just go for it and stick with the kind of music that works for me and not be afraid to leave a little bit of [my] heart and soul on stage.

The Look of Love: The Music of Dusty Springfield takes place at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 3, 2024, at Revolution Stage Company, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs CA. General admission tickets are $25 or $30 (cash only) at the door. For tickets and information, please visit or call 760-318-4115.