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Songs shine, but 'Dusty' is talk on the mild side

Since ''Mamma Mia," the Broadway musical has been steadily trawling the pop markdown bin for new material. So it's no surprise that Dusty Springfield, the frosted-blond songbird of the '60s, should be drafted as subject matter. The singer didn't just leave behind a solid-gold catalog (including such hits as ''You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and ''The Look of Love"), but also lived a life drenched in drama. Battered by addictions and breakdowns, she came out of the closet in 1970, then fell into a long career senescence, only to achieve a triumphant comeback just before succumbing to breast cancer.

It's a dysfunctional odyssey so sprawling that perhaps we should simply applaud ''A Girl Called Dusty," the new musical premiering at the Provincetown Repertory Theatre, for merely getting half the (re)package so right: Dusty's songs (some 20 of them) still shine, while her ''wall of sound" has been skillfully slimmed down to the resources of a six-man band. The show's design is sleek, its pacing fleet, and the cast, recruited from Broadway and the road-show circuit, sports vocal chops and acting talent rarely seen in venues this small. The house frequently rocks so much the actors even giggle at their own virtuosity.

But then Susann Fletcher's book kicks in, and things suddenly go clunk. Fletcher, a talented Broadway veteran and out-and-proud lesbian, certainly has the requisite passion for Springfield. But ''A Girl Called Dusty" still bears all the earmarks of its genesis as a one-woman show: The musical is centered around an imaginary conversation between Dusty and her childhood self, Mary O'Brien, while her real life becomes a blur of bit parts handled by the brilliant supporting cast.

Fletcher knows how to construct a scene, but her dialogue reeks of therapy-speak, and the conflict faced by Dusty's two faces -- it's all about accepting who you are, of course -- soon grows dull. It's certainly mild stuff compared to the parade of drug addictions, same-sex affairs, and straightjacket meltdowns that zip by in so many half-baked skits.

Meanwhile, lead actress Stacia Fernandez's glamorous voice lacks the yearning purr that was Dusty's signature (if you ain't got that, you ain't got Dusty). As young Mary, Kathy Deitch supplies something more like the songbird's heartbroken smolder (particularly in her Act 1 showstopper, ''Anyone Who Had a Heart"), but she's far too bouncy and earnest to serve as the inner voice of a soul in torment.

Dusty's catalog, with its unique Burt Bacharach-goes-Motown vibe, sounds better than ever, and the cast delivers both its yearning soul and its glittering surface.

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