‘Dreamgirls’: Keeps you hanging on | Arts & Appetite

By James Spangler | Jul 14, 2017
Courtesy of: Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre Alexandria Henderson (Lorrell Robinson), Lauren Du Pree (Deena Jones), Joell Weil (Michelle Morris), and the cast of “Dreamgirls.”
“Dreamgirls”

Rating: 5 out of 5
Where: Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett
When: Through July
Tickets $35-$70
Information: www.villagetheatre.org, 425-257-8600

 

It's a classic drama with desire, greed, ambition, love, betrayal, fear, hardship, pride and heartbreak.

“Dreamgirls,” the musical roughly chronicling the meteoric rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Berry Gordy Jr. and Motown, has all the elements of great drama, while serving as an inspiring metaphor for the struggle for inclusion and acceptance by African-Americans in the ’60s and ’70s.

Village Theatre and director Steve Tomkins have knocked this one out of the park. If you see one musical this year, let it be “Dreamgirls.” You won't be disappointed.

It's never easy to find fault with set design, lighting, sound, makeup, costuming or orchestration at Village Theatre. This production is no exception.

It all comes off as if by magic. The audience is treated to spectacular backdrops and dazzling costumes that take your breath away. The choreography is excellent – although not the showcase it’s been in recent productions like “Billy Elliot” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Where “Dreamgirls” is exceptional is in the acting and vocal performances of virtually the entire cast.

There are no weak links – each individual performance seems better than the last.

Dreamettes Lauren Du Pree, Alexandria Henderson and Angela Birchett are all exceptionally gifted vocalists who deliver stellar performances.

The character of James “Thunder” Early, performed by Nathaniel Tenenbaum, is roughly based from Smokey Robinson – although for me, it seemed more of a hybrid of Little Richard and James Brown.

In a memorable performance, Tenenbaum manages to simultaneously parody and give homage to this style of showmanship and vocalization. Early is both hilarious and tragic. As Tenenbaum took his bows, the crowds’ applause rose in a way that appeared to surprise him.

He seemed a little embarrassed that he'd stolen the show.

Michael Bennett (“A Chorus Line”) created Dreamgirls in 1983, but the play has lost none of its relevance. The highly rated prime time soap opera “Empire” is cut from the same cloth, drawing upon America’s fascination for the African-American music industry, whether it be Motown or hip-hop.

How writers respond to the so-called fourth wall in drama has always fascinated me. It’s pretty rare to break the wall and invite the audience to participate, but Bennett does so by encouraging us to be his audience both in real time and as the play is unfolding 50 years earlier.

When James Early walks out onto the stage of the Ambassador Hotel in Miami, his eyes widen at the sight of a sea of white. No black performer had ever set foot on this stage. Early “tones down” the show a little – doing a great parody of a white performer.

An irony not lost on many of us opening night in Everett was that the sea of white has not changed much. Although Nielsen ratings show 17 percent of “Empire” viewers are African-American, nowhere near that number looked back upon James Early last Friday.

His eyes had almost as much reason to grow wide today as they did 50 years ago.

 

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