Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Desert Foothills Theater

Also see Gil's reviews of Fools, The Boy Who Loved Monsters and the Girl Who Loved Peas, Conviction, A Celebration of Harold Pinter and Blockbuster Broadway

Ivan Thompson, Matravius Avent, Chanel Bragg, Miguel Jackson, Jacqueline Rushing and Krystal Pope
Run, don't walk, to catch Dreamgirls at Desert Foothills Theater. The Broadway classic musical is receiving a sensational production with excellent performances, clear and defined direction, period perfect choreography, and some striking costume designs.

Dreamgirls follows the behind the scenes story of the rise to fame and fortune of the singing group the "Dreams" (modeled somewhat on the Supremes). The three-girl group encounters many bumps along the way when their conniving manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. convinces them that pop music and not R&B is the path to future success and pushes the beautiful and thin backup singer Deena Jones to take over from the somewhat overweight, feisty, and pushy lead singer Effie White. Full of glitz, glamour and plenty of drama, Dreamgirls, with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics by Tom Eyen and a finely written book by Eyen, covers many years in the lives of Effie, Deena, and Curtis.

At the center of the story is Effie. Chanel Bragg is stunning in the part, providing plenty of nuance and layers underneath the role of the somewhat difficult performer. Bragg gets two Broadway showstoppers, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and "I Am Changing," and she knocks them out of the park, embodying "I Am Telling You" with an added level of pain and suffering, and not just a focus on hitting the high belting notes of the song, that I've not experienced in other productions of this show. Krystal Pope is equally strong as Deena. While it is the less flashy of the two parts, Deena is the driving force of many of the confrontations in the second act, and Pope does well navigating through the changes that her character experiences. She also looks eerily reminiscent of the glamorous Diana Ross in the act two '70s style long flowing wigs and period dresses. Bragg and Pope realistically portray two friends who encounter many issues throughout their years together. When the two are on stage together in an emotional moment in act two, it is the crowning achievement of their portrayals—even though both Effie and Deena have their flaws, you feel and care deeply for both of their characters.

As Curtis, Miguel Jackson is appropriately manipulative and powerful with a voice that matches, especially in his commanding delivery of his solo number "When I First Saw You." Jacqueline Rushing, as the third "Dream," Lorrell, proves she can hold her own against the more forceful group members and has a lot of fun with her romance with the much older, and married, James Thunder Early, whom the three girls start out singing back up for. Ivan Thompson brings a strong sense of showmanship and some strong, though appropriately rough, vocals to the part of Early. As Effie's brother C.C., who writes songs for the group, Matravius Avent has an excellent stage presence and strong voice. DeJean Brown and Ebony Green make up the rest of the leads, with Brown quite strong as Early's manager, and Green, who doesn't appear until the second act, effective as the woman who becomes a part of the Dreams and falls in love with C.C. There isn't a weak link in the lead cast, or in the ensemble, who play various parts throughout the multiple scenes and over the many years the story takes place.

It is hard to believe that Damon Bolling is making his musical directorial debut with this production, as his direction is so fluid and his command of the actors and story so effective. It is a stellar debut. I think this is the third or fourth show just in the past month choreographed by Lynzee 4Man, and her steps and movements work so well in conjunction with Boling's direction that the overall effect is that of a perfectly seamless production.

While the decision to have no elaborate set design, and just have the action unfold in front of the ten-piece band at center stage, seems at first to be an odd decision for a story that takes place in so many cities and locations and over so many years, it turns out to work just fine. With only the addition of a backstage dressing room table in a couple of scenes, a piano in another, and a few video projections on screens on the side of the stage, Boling proves that with clear direction and a great script you don't need elaborate sets to get across the emotional journey of this show. However, the use of projections is a bit haphazard and repetitive. Lauri Mershon's costumes are exceptional, with an abundance of period perfect styles that tie into the '60s and '70s periods of the show, with Jacob Hamilton's hair and make-up designs an excellent addition that ties everything together. With a score that features non-stop music from the many overlapping musical sequences, the underscore and the show-stopping performance numbers, Dan Kurek's driving music direction is superb. This is a difficult score to sing, and this cast doesn't miss a beat.

Desert Foothills Theatre has produced an outstanding production of this classic musical.

Dreamgirls for Desert Foothills Theater runs through March 1, 2015, at the Cactus Shadows Fine Art Center, 33606 N. 60th Street in Scottsdale. Information on upcoming shows and tickets can be purchased at or by calling 480 488-1981

Directed by Damon J. Bolling
Choreographer: Lynzee 4man
Music Direction: Dan Kurek
Stage Manager: Heather Patterson
Scenic Designer: Dillon Girgenti
Lighting Design: Dale Nakagawa
Costume Design: Lauri Mershon
Hair & Makeup Design: Jacob Hamilton
Assistant Stage Manager: Jen Blom
Sound Design: Toby Payne

Effie Melody White: Chanel Bragg
Deena Jones: Krystal Pope
Curtis Taylor, Jr.: Miguel Jackson
Lorrell Robinson: Jacqueline Rushing
C.C. White: Matravius Avent
James Thunder Early: Ivan Thompson
Marty Madison: Dejean Brown
Michelle Morris: Ebony Green
Ensemble: Tyra Young, Michael Leeth, Marjani Hing-Glover, Mason Reeves, Matthew Harris, Saint Ranson, Greg Plaza, Angela Ramirez-Poole, Felicia Penza, Anne-Lise Koyabe, Arona Spader and Demari Thompson

Photo: Tiffany Bolock / Desert Foothills Theater

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix