Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.


Also see Susan's review of Young Robin Hood

Nova Y. Payton
From its electric lead performances to the non-stop energy of its music and dancing—even its set—Signature Theatre's production of Dreamgirls exceeds all expectations. This show is a knockout that, in the compact MAX Theatre, feels like a Broadway production staged in a living room.

Matthew Gardiner's dynamic direction and choreography keeps the largely through-sung musical pounding and pulsating from beginning to end, ranging from the adrenaline rush of a talent contest to the tearful resolution.

As the 1981 musical by Tom Eyen (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) follows three friends through their pursuit of singing success in the 1960s and '70s, the entire cast keeps going relentlessly without time to rest or, apparently, breathe. Even the costume changes (designer Frank Labovitz is heavy on shine and glitz, from trapeze dresses to sequined hot pants) are choreographed, part of the action.

In the key role of Effie Melody White, Nova Y. Payton fulfills the promise she has shown in previous Signature roles (she received the 2012 Helen Hayes Award for her performance as Motormouth Maybelle in the company's production of Hairspray). Effie, leader of the singing group the Dreams, is curvy, large-voiced, and unwilling to compromise, and she must dominate the stage every time she appears—and Payton succeeds, capped by her exemplary rendition of the soul aria "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."

The other standout performance is Cedric Neal as James Thunder Early, a hotheaded soul singer forced to give up his "authenticity" to become a crossover success. He swivels his hips at the women in the front row, he purrs and roars, and he transitions uncomfortably from a sleek silver suit to a white tailcoat that suggests a straitjacket.

Gardiner, along with co-choreographer Brianne Camp, has created some arresting visual moments in the dance numbers: the saxophonists dancing along with Jimmy and the Dreams; the building tension in "Steppin' to the Bad Side," as the Dreams' manager (Sydney James Harcourt) pursues success in unsavory ways; and the cinematic intercutting of onstage and backstage action in several scenes.

Adam Koch's scenic design and Chris Lee's lighting add to the sense of constant movement: the two-level set features sliding panels and an elevator, while the lights serve to focus audience attention on specific spots in the front, back, or sides.

Signature Theatre
November 13th - January 13th, 2013
Book and lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by Henry Krieger
MC: Nickolas Vaughan
Stepp Sisters: Lauren Du Pree, Daphne Epps, DeMoya L. Watson
Charlene: Tamara Young
Joann: Kara-Tameika Watkins
Marty: Bus Howard
Curtis Taylor Jr.: Sydney James Harcourt
Deena Jones: Shayla Simmons
Tiny Joe Dixon: Stephawn Stephens
Lorrell Robinson: Crystal Joy
C.C. White: David Bazemore
Effie Melody White: Nova Y. Payton
Little Albert: Michael L. Mainwaring
The Tru-Tones: Jay Adriel, Sean-Maurice Lynch
Jimmy "James Thunder" Early: Cedric Neal
Wayne: Sean-Maurice Lynch
Dave: Gannon O'Brien
Frank: Gannon O'Brien
Michelle Morris: Kara-Tameika Watkins
Jerry: Stephawn Stephens
The Tuxedos: Jay Adriel, Sean-Maurice Lynch, Michael J. Mainwaring, Nickolas Vaughan
Les Styles: Lauren Du Pree, Daphne Epps, DeMoya L. Watson, Tamara Young
Mr. Morgan: Stephawn Stephens
Dance Captain: DeMoya L. Watson
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Gardiner
Musical direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
Co-Choreographer: Brianne Camp
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or

Photo: Christopher Mueller

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