Dinah Was

REVIEW by Willard Manus

LONG BEACH, CA -- Yvette Freeman makes a sensational Dinah Washington in DINAH WAS, Oliver Goldstick's musical biography of the legendary r&b singer, who fought poverty, parental abuse, diastrous marriages and racism in climbing to the top of the showbiz ladder, only to die an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol at age 39.

Goldstick begins his play in 1959, when Dinah has been booked into the Sahara Hotel in Vegas. The first black singer to be offered a mainstage gig on The Stem, she is shattered on arrival to discover she can sing at the hotel but can't sleep there. Jim Crow just won't allow it. Her personal assistant (Sybyl Walker) and white manager (Peter Van Norden) think she should roll with the punches, but Dinah is too much of a diva and a fighter for that. She camps out in the lobby of the Sahara, refusing to budge until the hotel backs down.

While she's waiting--and suffering--the play flashes back and forth in time, dramatizing the key points in Dinah's short but full and passionate life. Mixed in are numerous musical numbers which allow Freeman to show off her vocal chops on such songs as "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes," "Baby, You Got What It Takes" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." Freeman is backed by a five-piece band (led by Lanny Hartley) and a talented four-person cast who play a variety of roles. caryn morse desai directed this red-hot, scintillating production.

At the International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. Call (562-436-4610 or visit ictlongbeach.com