In 1982, director Paul Mazursky filmed a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest called, you'll never guess, Tempest. Susan Sarandon was in it, and I'm a fan, so I went. I don't remember much about it, but I vividly recall a glorious voice singing Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan" over the end credits. It was Dinah Washington, a vocalist I'd never heard of but whose impeccable musicianship and scorching sound had me swooning. It's been a non-stop love affair ever since.
So you can imagine how excited I was to see Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.'s Dinah, written and directed by music and theater artist Ernest McCarty. Set in 1961, the first act is Dinah rehearsing for a Birdland appearance later that evening. A reporter interviews her and Dinah slips into memories about her early career and the seven men she married. (Or possibly eight ... the record isn't clear.) Act II is the concert we've watched her rehearse.
There's not much to say about the non-musical elements; the characters, the dialogue and the plot don't register, and the framing device McCarty provides is, like his direction, merely serviceable.
Where Pittsburgh-based McCarty has soared is his musical direction, and his knock-out quartet: Lou Stellute on sax, Andrew Kirk on drums, bass player Miles Jackson and McCarty himself on keyboards. These four men swing through more than 20 numbers, and their sound is tight and absolutely on target.
And at the center is Delana Flowers, as Dinah. She doesn't attempt an impersonation — that would have been fatal — but she does employ Dinah's legendary clipped phrasing and staccato style. Flowers is a rather splendid singer herself, and her performance is a tribute to one of the greats. I'd also like to single out Les Howard's entertaining turn as Brooks Benton on his duet with Dinah.
Some cranks might carp that Dinah isn't really a play, just a musical revue. And it's true that when the evening strays from the music, it hits some very rocky ground.
But you know what? I don't care. It's great songs sung by a wonderful singer backed up by a terrific band. Believe me, it's enough.