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Dreamgirls Delivers at Maine State Music Theatre
Maine State Music Theatre

Trista Dollison, Eric B. Anthony, Byron Glenn Willis, Bryonha Marie Parham, Kelvin Roston, Jr., Britney Coleman
Over the years, Maine State Music Theatre has branded the motto "Broadway comes to Brunswick" and, indeed, the company, now in its fifty-fifth year, manages to deliver with remarkable consistency performances with strong casts and lavish production values. The 2013 season opener, Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's Dreamgirls is no exception. MSMT's staging, a co-production with the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is boisterous, exuberant, and heartfelt all at once—a starry evening of stellar performances encased in shimmering visuals.

The Tony Award wining musical which debuted on the Great White Way in 1981 and ran for 1521 performances and which was later popularized by the 2006 Oscar-winning movie, is loosely based on the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes and the history of Motown. Krieger's score traces the evolution of R&B to soul, pop, disco, and even rap in the '60s and '70s, replicating the contagious rhythms and soaring riffs. While not beyond offering a conventionally conciliatory ending, Eyen's book and lyrics do not eschew conflict, creating just the right balance of tension and release.

In a musical about musicians, the orchestra is of paramount importance, and MSMT is fortunate to have Jason Wetzel to lead the seven-piece pit ensemble. Sensitive to dynamics and style, Wetzel creates a rich soundscape which provides continuity even through many of the moments of spoken dialogue.

Building on this vigorous musical foundation, Marc Robin directs and choreographs with a sure hand and plenty of panache. His staging is fluid and fast paced, punctuated by quiet moments of arresting intensity. His vision of the play emphasizes the inherently flawed humanity of the characters, and he manages to avoid gratuitous glitz.

In what is very much an excellent ensemble of singing actors, the Dreamettes trio and their male counterparts shine. Bryonha Marie Parham is a show-stopping Effie White, a vocal powerhouse with an impressive musical and histrionic range. Trista Dollison is a shimmering Lorrell Robinson, who almost steals the show in her act two breakout number, Ain't No Party. Britney Coleman as Deena Jones provides a fittingly frail and winsome contrast to the robustness of her soul sisters.

The male contingent give equally nuanced performances. Trinity P. Murdock is a wise and winning Marty who tugs at the audience's heart in his confrontations with Curtis. Broadway veteran Eric B. Anthony turns in a sensitive vocal and dramatic performance as Effie's brother C.C. White, and Kelvin Roston, Jr. is a charismatic James Thunder Early. Roston not only masters Jimmy's changing vocal styles, but he is a dancer of enormous plasticity. As Curtis Taylor, Jr., Chicago-based Byron Glenn Willis shapes an imposing characterization of the Dreams' clever, ambitious, and manipulative manager, and makes up for what he lacks in vocal heft with intelligent articulation and phrasing.

These eloquent performances are enhanced by the dazzling sets, lighting, and costumes, all of which have become hallmarks of MSMT productions. The scenic design by Robert Andrew Kovach is deceptively simple, yet brilliantly evocative; it consists of a pair of arched metal trellises which suggest prosceniums, and a selection of fly curtains, given structural weight by the lighting ladders and grids. Integral to the entire decor is Nick Cyr's lighting design. With its rapidly modulating palette of rainbow hues and starry backdrops, the lighting pulses to the music, orchestrating mood and magic.

The costumes and wigs by MSMT resident designer Kurt Alger are nothing short of spectacular. The prolific number of wardrobe changes helps propel the narrative through time. Not only does Alger have an admirable sense of structure and silhouette in his couture, but he also delights the eye with the tactile values of sequined gowns and period suits. Praiseworthy, too, is the fact that all three designers resist the temptation of unwarranted glitter. Dreamgirls shimmers throughout, but much of that luster comes from within the material and the players.

For the most part, Colin Whitely's sound design is balanced and bright, though the amplification occasionally falls prey to the pitfalls of previous MSMT shows—that is, depending on one's seat location, the big vocal moments tend to blowout or sound excessively metallic.

Dreamgirls is a Cinderella story about disappointment and hope, betrayal and loyalty, and loss and love. In MSMT's production, these emotions play themselves out with passion and soul. Like the starry backdrop which metaphorically frames the singers near the close of the show, the musical sings of the power of dreams and the possibility of new beginnings.

Maine State Music Theatre's Dreamgirls runs through June 22 at the Pickard Theatre, Bowdoin College campus, 1 Bath Rd.,Brunswick, Maine. For more information, call 207-725-8769 or visit

Photo courtesy Maine State Music Theatre, Audra Hatch, photographer.

--Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold

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