By Kate Dimbleby and Amy Rosenthal; Directed by Cal McCrystal
Produced by Pegasus Theatre
Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 1.4.15
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Eleanor J. Bader on 12.22.14
Kate Dimbleby in Beware of Young Girls. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: The extraordinary life of singer-songwriter Dory Previn [1925-2012] unfolds through song, using minimal dialogue to tell a poignant and entertaining story.
Beware of Young Girls opens with a confession: actor-singer Kate Dimbleby looks directly at the audience and explains that until a few years ago, she had never heard of Dory Previn. This changed, she reports, when her sister sent her a link to Lady with a Braid, a song she'd heard while browsing in a store. The lyrics, she continues, were "straight-up, but quirky" and seemed "both nostalgic and new."
Dimbleby, a popular performer in Europe, was immediately smitten and not only began performing the song, she also began delving into the background of its composer. She was so intrigued, she adds, that she decided to record an album of Previn's music with piano and vocal accompaniment by Naadia Sheriff. The record came out in May 2012. Two months later the duo were performing Beware of Young Girls, a play that incorporates short excerpts from Previn's two-volume autobiography, for British audiences. The show garnered rave reviews and toured the UK before making its U.S. debut.
It's a terrific production and while it does not dwell in details, it does present the bare-bones essence of Previn's life story. The audience learns, for example, that Dory was born in New Jersey to Irish Catholic parents and had a less-than-idyllic childhood. Her dad, Michael Langan, had been gassed as a soldier during World War I and suffered from bouts of acute mental illness. At times, he denied being Dory's father, a situation captured in Daddy Says I Ain't His Child. Nonetheless, when Dory began to evince award-winning musical talent, he softened and ultimately became one of her most ardent supporters.
Years later, in 1958, Dory arrived in Hollywood and teamed up with songwriter Andre Previn. The pair not only went on to pen dozens of popular tunes, they fell in love and married in 1959. But all was not sunshine and rainbows: Dory, like her dad, suffered from severe mental angst and was diagnosed, perhaps incorrectly, as schizophrenic. Her addiction to pills, many of them prescribed to control her symptoms, became fodder for the theme song they wrote for Valley of the Dolls, and became a huge hit for Dionne Warwick in 1968. Still, professional success aside, trouble lurked, and when Dory learned that Andre had impregnated 23-year-old aspiring actor Mia Farrow, the marriage fell apart and the couple divorced. Beware of Young Girls, the song, resulted.
From that point on, Dory used her post-divorce anguish and recovery as a springboard for composition, and in the decades after the break-up wrote and released six successful solo albums. Dimbleby's spirited rendition of her songs -- among them, Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?, Lemon Haired Ladies, Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign, Mythical Kings and Iguanas, and Twenty Mile Zone -- is brilliant, and her periodic forays between stage and audience make for an intimate and emotionally charged connection.
What's more, throughout Dimbleby's performance, images of Dory, Andre, Mia Farrow, and others are projected onto a background screen so that those unfamiliar with them can pin faces to names. All told, it's a tightly-written, engaging, and wholly entertaining production. And it has a positive denouement. At the risk of being a spoiler, it's worth mentioning that despite many sad moments and great turmoil, the play ends on a high note, with Dory not only ditching her dependence on pills, but also eventually finding the love, happiness, and security she craved.
(Beware of Young Girls: Kate Dimbleby Sings the Dory Previn Story is being performed at 59E59 Street Theaters, 59 East 59 Street, through January 4, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:15 PM; Fridays at 8:15 PM; Saturdays at 5:15 and 8:15 PM; and Sundays at 3:15 and 7:15 PM. Tickets are $35 and are available by calling 212-279-4200 or going to www.59E59.org.)