Sasha Sings Dinah, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Dinah Washington’s life was extreme even by the relatively casual standards of the music-club circuit: throughout the 1940s and ’50s Jet magazine recorded the amazing offstage antics of the “Queen of the Blues”–her seven (some say nine) husbands, her practice of assaulting hecklers after the show or holding dishonest managers at gunpoint until they paid her, her bouts with alcohol and diet pills, the combination of which contributed to her early death in 1963 at the age of 39. But her three-octave voice and eclectic repertoire forged a style copied to this day in cabarets the world over, a legacy that more than justifies Sasha Daltonn’s one-woman show documenting the life and music of this legendary artist.
Daltonn has Washington’s vocal style down pat–the text-based phrasing, the clipped enunciation, the soaring crescendos and delicate upper-register pianissimi–though her own voice has deepened somewhat since the premiere of Sasha Sings Dinah in 1980. The narrative is fairly straightforward Hollywood bio, incorporating chatty dressing-room confidences, banter with vulnerable front-row spectators, and patter from concerts (“Your Elizabeth is an impostor,” Washington boasted to a London audience. “I am the only queen!”). The opening night was marred by a few technical glitches, but Daltonn emerged a consummate trouper in an evening that’s at once a showcase for Washington’s greatest hits and an introduction to a significant figure in American musical history.
–Mary Shen Barnidge