Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Dreamgirls
Village Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes

Also see David's review of An American In Paris


The Cast
Photo by Mark Kitaoka
In 1981, the best new musical I saw on Broadway had to be Dreamgirls, late director/choreographer Michael Bennett's production of playwright/lyricist Tom Eyen and composer Henry Krieger's bittersweet Valentine to the Motown sound, featuring reasonable facsimiles of Diana Ross and the Supremes as its focal point. Unless I miss my guess, Village Theatre's outstanding production will end up as a top contender for the best musical in Seattle this calendar year.

From top to bottom, this show is a class act. Directed with heart and soul by Steve Tomkins and associate director Timothy McCuen Piggee, and featuring gold record class musical direction by R. J. Tancioco as well as dynamic, electrically charged choreography by Daniel Cruz, the show comes at you with such explosive power and magnitude, Village Theatre ought to have its earthquake insurance paid up. It is thatgood.

Dreamgirls follows the story of an African-American all-girl singing trio from Chicago in the 1960s called, initially, the Dreamettes and later the Dreams. Effie White, a voluptuous big girl with a bigger than life voice and temperament is the trio's lead, with her best friend Deena Jones and another friend Lorrell Robinson functioning as her backup singers. Seeing them in an Apollo Theatre audition, handsome but shifty would-be manager/producer Curtis Taylor, Jr. finagles his way into being the Dreams' manager,and boosts them as back-up trio for established R&B artist James "Thunder" Early, a married man with eyes for Lorrell. Curtis sweeps Effie into a sexual relationship, but then his attentions turn toward Deena. When Deena is promoted to the lead singer, Effie becomes hostile, missing work, throwing diva fits and gaining weight, and the Dreams splinter, with Curtis firing Effie and replacing her with the sleeker Michelle Morris.

Once into the 1970s, Curtis' dreams for Deena's continued vocal prosperity conflict with her dreams to go into film acting. Lorrell is feeling fed up that Jimmy Early is keeping her as a mistress but won't legally wed her, while Jimmy is upset with the homogenized stage persona Curtis has turned him into, and Effie struggles to reinvent herself as a solo act, with some help from her younger brother C.C., who has fallen for Michelle.

As Effie, Angela Birchett never allows doubts or encroaching bitterness to totally envelop the character, always undercoating the role with the love and forgiveness that is at her core. Birchett has the most velvety, rangy voice of any Effie I have ever heard, and all three of her big numbers—"And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going," "I Am Changing" and "One Night Only"—are showstoppers.

Lauren Du Pree's Deena feels like the character who changes the most, though in subtler ways than Effie does. Once Deena assumes the top spot with the Dreams, Du Pree's velvety vocals handily impress, and suggest but never force the Miss Ross connection, and her duet with John Devereaux's slick, superficial, and yet pitiable Curtis, "When I First Saw You," is a highly charged musical scene that underlines the quality of their interpretations. Devereaux sharply delineates the lead vocals in "Steppin' to the Bad Side" and his look is so matinee idol handsome it is not hard to believe he holds power over Effie and the others for so long.

Alexandria Henderson has hit star status in this town (finally) with her fully fleshed out portrayal of the baby of the original trio, Lorrell. And she keeps the house coming down with her incredible wide-ranging voice and acting chops on "Ain't No Party." As Jimmy Early, all I can say is welcome to Seattle, Nathaniel Tenenbaum, with your auditorium-filling voice, energy, comedic flair and charisma. From "Fake Your Way to the Top" to "Jimmy's Rap," this performance is riveting—and deeply sad at its core, in showing an artist debased by poor management. Charles Simmons' C.C. is a quiet force of humanity amidst the leading male roles, and his tender voice embraces the heart in the show so well in "Family" and in his reconnection with Effie. Joell Weill as Effie's replacement Michelle and later CC's love interest takes the smallest role of the dreamgirls and makes it count in all respects. Ty Willis is grounded and intense as Marty, Jimmy's honorable first manager, and Phillip Bolton sizzles in a showy cameo as Tiny Joe Dixon in "Takin' the Long Way Home." The entire ensemble is oozing talent all over the stage, portraying multiple roles, singing, and dancing like their lives depended on it.

David Sumner's scenic design is impeccable, focused around moving light towers, screens and platforms, and lighting designer Tom Sturge paints the rich brassy lights and encroaching shadows in radiant fashion. Costume designer Karen Ledger never misses with her array of dazzling gowns for all the women, and suits for the men, in perfect encapsulation of their period. Brent Warrick's sound design is ideally balanced among the actors and R.J. Tancioco's large and luscious sounding orchestra.

Village offers a discount to audience members who wish to attend a second time. I think a lot of Dreamgirls fans will be taking them up on that offer.

Dreamgirls runs through July 2, 2017, at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, then heads North to Everett Performing Arts Center July 7-30, 2017. For ticket reservations, pricing and more go to www.villagetheatre.org.


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