Featuring music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen, Dreamgirls is a story of the show business aspirations and successes of R & B acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown and Jackie Wilson. The musical opened on December 20, 1981, at the Imperial Theatre, and closed on August 11, 1985. The Broadway production received six Tony Awards, and five Drama Desk Awards. It was later adapted into a motion picture from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures in 2006.
Dreamgirls follows a young female singing trio called "The Dreams" from Chicago who become music superstars. It centers on the journey of their lead singer, Effie, who gets moved to the position of a backup singer in favor of a group image that is more visually marketable. The change results in many layers of conflict for the group and those associated. Dreamgirls touches on the seedy side of the music business, particularly for African-American singers in the time period between 1962-1975.
The staging for the this touring production of Dreamgirls is a wonderful tribute to the dance style of the singing groups of the era. Costuming is both glamorous and glorious. The numerous fast changes of the girl singers are seamlessly achieved, despite the fact that they appear nearly impossible. Creative staging of singers turned away from the audience, mirroring an overhead projection of their supposedly live performance of the cover of the song "Cadillac Car," cleverly disguises the fact that the performers on stage are not the achingly Caucasian ones pictured on screen.
The stand-out performance of this production is Chester Gregory as James "Thunder" Early. His finds every comic moment in the role, and handles the downward spiral of the star beautifully. His acting in the scene before a Miami audience is wonderful, as he visibly struggles to restrain his soulful side. His singing voice is remarkably agile in flipping into a focused falsetto, and is continually showcased in the selection of songs. Moya Angela handles the staging and singing of the role of Effie well, though she falls under pitch on the last note of both "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and "I Am Changing." Adrienne Warren (Lorrell) shows some impressive vocals in the second act in the song "I Meant You No Harm." Syesha Mercado is lovely as Deena, but sometimes lacking in vocal power in the bottom of her head voice. She comes off as less charismatic than the role would dictate. Margaret Hoffman as Michelle is disappointingly bland in both her singing and acting. Overall, this production seems lacking in passion, and the actors (except for Chester Gregory) lacking a sense of urgency. Whether it is the direction, the acting, or just an off night, somehow we end up just not caring about or connecting with these characters, despite the slickness of the production value.
Dreamgirls appeared through November 28, 2010, on the Marden Stage of Dreyfoos Hall in the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida. For information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 561-832-7469 (561-832-SHOW) or 1-800-572-8471 (1-800-KRAVIS-1). Or online at www.kravis.org. Information on the tour may be found at www.dreamgirlsonstage.com.
The actors and stage managers in this production are members of Actor’s Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.