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Beware of Young Girls
Beware of Young Girls is a song Dory wrote about Farrow. It's also the title of Kate Dimbleby's telling of Dory Previn's story. Written by Dimbleby in collaboration with Amy Rosenthal, the show contains excerpts from two Previn autobiographies as well.
And then there's the music. Previn, who died in 2012 was the queen of spill-your-guts confessional songwriting, so her compositions provide a serviceable (as well as vivid and melodic) pathway through the turbulent landscape of her life. The show contains fifteen songs, twelve that Dory wrote solo and three written with Andre. While cut from the same cloth in a broad sort of way, they range from plaintive, wistful ballads ("Valley of the Dolls", "Perfect Man") to jaunty ditties ("Twenty Mile Zone", "Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?").
The songs hold the show together. And they in turn are held together by their creator's keen intelligence, wicked sense of humor, and, most of all, ability to laugh at herself.
Previn's music is consistently provocative. No stranger to emotional disorders, she takes the most dire events (like one of her nervous breakdowns in "Twenty Mile Zone") and sets them to perky melodies with blistering - yet at the same time innocent - self-awareness. Her absolute refusal to hold anything back is amazing. And her ability to find not just the right words but the right angle is awesome.
Beware begins with a short monologue by Dory (played throughout by Dimbleby), recalling the somewhat famous/infamous incident that marked the beginning of her mental collapse after her breakup with Andre. She had to be removed from a plane because she was screaming uncontrollably before takeoff. She then sings "Mythical Kings and Iguanas", a cry for help from a lost soul.
It then goes back to the beginning: Dory's childhood. "My Daddy Says I Ain't His Child" gives a peek at where Dory's frail nervous system may have come from, genetically and experientially. Her father, convinced he had been made sterile in the war, claimed that someone else had fathered Dory and her sister. He imprisoned them and their mother for over four months.
Perfect Man, both adoring and astringent ("his sweet self-centred smile"), recounts her falling in love with Andre. Her next lover was her record producer Nik Venet, twelve years her junior. "Lemon Haired Ladies" explains how she dealt - or didn't deal - with his penchant for nubile blondes. Finally, she recalls Joby Baker's entering her life ("Lady with the Braid). He never left.
" But for a wicker chair on the side and a screen with a series of telling stills behind, Beware has a cabaret look to it: singer at a microphone and accompanist at a baby grand. It has a cabaret feel as well, in that its presentation style, on the surface at least, follows the standard cabaret song-banter-song-banter model, with numbers that melodically would be right at home at a supper club. But the banter is actually a narrative thread connecting the songs by and about a troubled artist who used her pain and confusion to fuel her art. And the lyrics, while often playful, are trenchantly observant and laced with self-mockery.
It's appropriate that Dory is center stage almost all the time. In her compositions she wears her angst as a badge of honor, a badge that in its way says "Look at me." She wants the spotlight (dramatic lighting design by Charlie Walton) to shine light on her wounds.
Dimbleby is fantastic as Dory. With a voice that's warm, clear and full, she delivers Previn's gems with flawless phrasing and meticulous shading. She is frequently joined in harmonies and dialogue by her musical director, Naadia Sheriff, whose voice complements hers nicely. Sheriff's piano is Dimbleby's only accompaniment. Her arrangements are lush and her playing poignant.