Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Dreamgirls is the story of the show business aspirations and successes of R&B acts such as the Supremes, the Shirelles, James Brown, and Jackie Wilson. Set in the years between 1962-1975, it follows a young female singing trio from Chicago called the Dreams on their turbulent journey to stardom. It is truly the story of their talented lead singer Effie (Kendra Williams), who is moved to the position of a backup singer in favor of a group image that is more visually marketable. Dreamgirls touches on the harsh realities of African-American singers attempting to cross over into the mainstream music market, as well as the seedy side of the payola schemes of the record industry during this time period. The collective and individual dreams of the characters surrounding the Dreams change substantially along the way to the stardom they so craved at the start of their journey.
Let's face itwho in their right mind wants to try and follow Jennifer Holliday and/or Jennifer Hudson as Effie singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"? Raise your hand if your name is Kendra Williams! From the beginning of the show she has the sass of a budding diva with the talent to back it up. She shows off her vocal chops early on, and then opens the floodgates for her big number at the end of act one, deservedly receiving a standing ovation. It has been six years since I have attended a production that contained a performance that warranted a mid-show standing ovation (Avery Sommers as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray singing "I Know Where I've Been" was the last).
David Berry is amazing as James "Thunder" Early. His take on the character seems to be a cross between a randy pimp and a charismatic, evangelical Baptist minister. He masterfully manipulates his vocal placement at just the right points in his songs to squeeze the humor, emotion and grit out the moment and the character. He obviously understands the subtleties of the sounds and styles of R&B and Motown in the years in which the story takes place. He shines during the slicker parts of the arc of the character, but also handles the downward spiral of the star beautifully in his last scene.
Alex Lugo is both lovely and sweet as Deena. Her beautiful smile and figure make her perfect for the role, as she is placed at the front of the Dreams. Lugo has a charming naivete that leaves her character believably unaware of any of the underhanded things going on around her. She has scattered moments in which she is able to establish a connection with James White III as Jimmy. White seemed to be having vocal issues on the night attended, but the real issue was not his singing. He had one unchanging facial expression throughout the show, and struggled with the symptoms of an inexperienced actor. This really stood out amidst the other strong performances. Cherise James (Lorrell) has great stage presence, and shows off her solo voice in "I Meant You No Harm." Though Elisa Danniel Lisaich as Michelle is not afforded real opportunities as a soloist, she and the assorted members of the Dreams all sound, look and dance great together.
Marquee Theater Company far exceeds expectations with this production of Dreamgirls. Scenic design (Sean Gogen) is bigger and better than previous productions, and the extensive costuming (Ben Solmor), especially for all the girl group performances, looks sensational. Solmor also staged the stylized dance routines of each performance group to a T. He utilizes the stage space well, and capitalizes on the abilities of the actors while showing off the costumes. Throughout the show, the balance between the instrumental tracks and singers is seamlessly balanced. From a technical standpoint there were just a couple of moments (the top of act two stands out) where lighting cues were off or mics delayed in being turned on at the performance I attended.
What a delight to see this company, now in their sophomore season, rise to the challenges of such a difficult show, proving they are a force to be reckoned with. The run of this show is relatively brief, so get your tickets quickly.
This Marquee Theater Company production of Dreamgirls, through January 29, 2017, at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater. Mainstage productions are housed in the West Boca Performing Arts Theater at 12811 Glades Rd. in Boca Raton FL, and Black-Box productions are housed in the Next Level Performing Arts Black-Box at 7533 N. St. Rd. 7 in Parkland FL. For tickets and information, you may contact them by phone at 954-464-8249 or online at www.marqueetheatercompany.com.