The new national touring production of Dreamgirls, which began in November at Apollo Theater featured in the musical's opening scenes, presents a talented cast serving the material well and some excellent production components.
Following the life of the fictional 1960s girl group the Dreams (beginning as the Dreamettes), who somewhat resemble the Supremes, Dreamgirls features an opportunity for an actress/singer to bring down the house as Effie, the rebellious Dream deemed too fat for TV, but who eventually proves the voice is the thing. Moya Angela takes on that opportunity here; she is all sass right from the start and sings emotionally and powerfully, as Dreamgirls audiences have come to expect. Deena is the Dream who is brought to the forefront for her beauty, and Lorrell is the one who is, at the start, a childlike innocent. Syesha Mercado and Adrienne Warren essay the two roles solidly, though without enough distinction to fully present each character's individual personality.
Dreamgirls' second stand-out role opportunity is that of the James Brown-esque Jimmy "Thunder" Early, and Chester Gregory does a fine job with the challenge. Chaz Lamar Shepherd plays the ambitious manager Curtis Taylor, Jr., which is usually a mostly dramatic role. But the little we hear of Shepherd's singing voice makes us really wish he had more to sing.
With most scenes depicting the Dreams and other singing groups performing on stage, paired with simultaneous backstage glimpses, Dreamgirls is a challenge to stage. Robin Wagner leads a team who succeeds in this production, with revolving walls moving and readjusting to form the physical set, which then explodes with Ken Billington's lighting, creating a multitude of stunning impressions of concert stage and backstage settings. And the many costumes by William Ivey Long are gorgeous and period-perfect. Aided by Acme Sound Partners' sound and hair design by Paul Huntley, the result is a rich and complete production. The only problems at the performance reviewed were some really poor mic cues, including a disappointing title song in which the only voices heard were those of the pit singers.
Dreamgirls is typically more entertainment than intricate story, but that's fine, with Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's '60s-sound score. Added for this production is the new song, "Listen" with lyrics by Willie Reale, written for the 2006 film version. Used as a "let's make up" scene for Effie and Deena, it fits.
The Dreamgirls national tour is at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall through January 3. For more information, visit www.dreamgirlsonstage.com.