A Powerhouse Show
(Los Angeles, March 2, 2010) The Dreamgirls musical revival at the Ahmanson is a huge, ambitious show with multiple stars, multiple themes, multimedia and a huge adrenaline rush. The familiar story is a Broadway and film legend, directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom, from the original Broadway production of Michael Bennett, book and lyric by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger. This production overwhelms, touching on ideas of civil rights, musical evolution, personal degradation and redemption, and being true to ones' dream, without really exploring these themes. It rarely lets up on the pace. The largely brassy musical numbers all contribute to the emotional whirlwind on stage. The costumes range from glitzy and over-the-top to dazzlingly gorgeous. Everything is amplified by the huge digital screens in the background which - while clever and modern, together with the rest of the action on stage - whiplash the senses. (Perhaps this was done for the younger digital generation's benefit?)
There are several memorable performances. One of the most outstanding pleasures of the show is the choreography. The "Steppin to the Bad Side" song is a knockout with the dozen male dancers in blue suits, hats and suitcases. It's a showstopper combination of Busby Berkeley and the Doo Dah Parade. And at the same time it helps anchor the audience and lets us breathe for a minute.
Chester Gregory as Jimmy Early is amazing as the James-Brownesque soul singer. His performances are as eccentric as the master, and his physical gyrations and splits are almost unbelievable. (How can a grown middle-aged man be that flexible?) His voice doesn't stop, in the raspy soul tradition. He gets one of the few big laughs when he talks about performing in Vegas and being mistaken for Tony Bennett.
The most overwhelming sound comes from the star
Angela as Effie White. Her voice is one of the most powerful I have ever heard.
At times it is a joy and at other times feels way too big. Which of course is
part of the story. Her style and great 'tude, as the fresh young thing who
arrives at the Apollo for a talent contest and refuses to sing
"behind" anyone, make her so appealing. She is strong enough to pull
up her tentative friends, like Deena Jones, played by American Idol runner-up,
Syesha Mercado. This is all the more heartbreaking as the story
progresses. Effie not only sings behind Jimmy Early but also then is forced to
do the same (by her hustling manager/lover Curtis Taylor, played by
Shepherd) for the very friend she nurtured along. Scorned by her man, she pulls
out the famous "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
Hers is a tour-de-force of the scorned
woman. It is painful to watch as she victimizes and degrades her own spirit, and
even though it's like watching a train wreck, you get pulled in. There was many
a teary eye in the audience.
The sweetest and most pleasant voices which never feel pushed and convey their emotional lives come from two young rising stars - the handsome C.C. White, the younger brother of Effie and composer of the group, played by Trevon Davis, and the beautiful and graceful Michelle Morris, the newer "Dreamgirl." The two of them are well matched in one of the many subplots and arcs of the story. Adrienne Warren as Lorrell Robinson is very appealing as the third Dream / Dreamette member who pulls herself out of her relationship with a married man - Jimmy Early. Milton Craig Nealy as Marty, the caring and more reasonable agent, is also a likeable presence onstage.
Although Moya Angela as Effie White is the lead of the
show and appears in nearly every number in the first act, she sits out of nine
of the numbers in the second act as other characters are highlighted to bring
out their stories. This makes the musical a bit more like a revue than an
emotional or dramatic story. It's difficult for any of the themes to be truly
explored. But Dreamgirls does a good job of conveying the feelings of
frustration and lack. We get a sense of men having the last word over their
women, so prevalent in the sixties, and then women started to break through in
This is a jam-packed show, and there is something here to be
appreciated by everyone. Perhaps after opening night jitters are gone, everyone
will take a deep breath, and the overall tone will settle and the show will
turn into a more accessible audience experience. I'm told the original Dreamgirls cast showed up for the opening, so this was sure to have added some extra extra umphf in the show I saw.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Center Theatre Group
601 W. Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
February 25 - April 4, 2010
Tues. - Sat. 8 p.m.
Sat. - 2 p.m.
Sun. - 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.