The energy was abuzz in the Legendary World Famous Apollo Theatre awaiting the start of Dreamgirls, a touchstone in American musicals. The playâ€™s opening scene is at the Apollo Amateur Night competition, and the play ends with a farewell concert at the Apollo Theater. So one canâ€™t help but to find it absolutely fitting that the Dreamgirls revival tour is beginning uptown as a part of the 75th Anniversary Season of the renowned Legendary Apollo Theatre.
Dreamgirls is the story of three friends (the Dreamettes) who come to New York to compete in the Apollo Amateur night competition. They have dreams of becoming famous, and although they donâ€™t win the competition, they do hit the big times. The Original 1981 Production of Dreamgirls was a tour de force on Broadway & the original Dreams: Tony award winner Jennifer Holliday (Effie), Sheryl Lee Ralph (Deena), and Loretta Devine (Lorrell) left their indelible mark on these roles and huge shoes to fill. Although they still hold their respective crowns as the Dreams, this is a wonderful & visually stunning revival that will leave most audience members singing with satisfaction.
In this production, Moya Angela holds her own as the powerhouse & pushed aside Effie White. Ms. Angela has an incredible voice and has amazing technical command of it. She blows you away song by song, and leaves you no doubt that sheâ€™ll be able to deliver her eight shows a week. Although, Moya Angela doesnâ€™t quite have the emotional range/ vulnerability of Hollidayâ€™s acting as Effie, one can safely assume that more experience & grounding (physical & emotional) in this leading role will bring out the best in her.
Syesha Mercado, whom some may remember as second-runner up on American Idol, is a beautiful Deena Jones- visually. She has an astounding 17 wigs and at least 30 costume changes that would satisfy the most demanding diva. While she delivers a decent performance as Deena, she doesnâ€™t have the â€œitâ€ factor that one sees in one-named Divas or the original Deena Jones, Ms. Ralph. Vocally, she has some shining moments, but her vocals are inconsistent. Unfortunately, She falls flat in the signature song â€œDreamgirlsâ€. The song loses its weight when the other two Dreams arenâ€™t singing. One might logically think that this is only an acting choice, but Adrienne Warrenâ€™s vocals as Lorrell will make you second-guess those thoughts. Ms. Mercado does deliver with the screenplay adopted â€œListenâ€ duet with Effie. The lyrics for â€œListenâ€ were re-written for the stage play, and surprisingly fit into with the fabric of the play well.
Adrienne Warren delivers a noteworthy performance as Lorrell. She has the â€œitâ€ that you expect in Deena and many times one would wonder if the casting should be switched. Warrenâ€™s Lorrell is funny, vulnerable, and has an incredible voice. Her â€œAinâ€™t No Partyâ€ number clearly demonstrates her exceptional vocals. By the time she leaves Jimmy, you see the woman on stage and hear the woman in her voice.
Chaz Lamar Shepherd delivers a memorable performance as Curtis Taylor. His charismatic energy, gorgeous smile, and velvety smooth vocals will make you swoon. We easily understand why Effie begged for the attention of this man. When Ms. Angela & Mr. Shepherd tap into the fullness of the electricity that exists between them, this couple will be unforgettable on stage.
Last but certainly not least, Chester Gregory delivers a scene-stealing knockout performance as James â€œThunderâ€ Early. His showmanship evokes the spirit of James Brown and Jackie Wilson. He truly understands soul music, and when he is forced to be â€œwatered downâ€ for crossover appeal, the pain is obvious. Mr. Gregoryâ€™s outstanding dancing will make you wonder if his legs have rubber bands instead of bone. His vocals pierce the Apollo Theatre and make your mind travel back to the early days on that legendary stage. Mr. Gregoryâ€™s experience/talent is obvious and used well in this production.
Trevon Davis delivers a solid performance as C. C. White with beautiful vocals and a refreshing sensitivity. Margaret Hoffman brings enthusiasm to her role as Michelle. Milton Craig rounds out the supporting cast nicely as the old-school manager Marty Madison. Having been in the original production, he also acts as connective tissue between the past and present of the phenomenon that is Dreamgirls. The ensemble delivers solid work and supports the leading cast very well while seemingly having a great time. Their outstanding supporting work helps this production move seamlessly.
The production value of this play is off the charts. Director/Choreographer Robert Longbottom has created a sleek and modern production that is aesthetically pleasing spectacle. Mr. Longbottom knows that the Dreams are indeed in showbiz, and the glamour factor is major. It is obvious that the budget for this show was quite generous and was utilized exceptionally well. The Lighting design by Ken Billington is some of the best that Iâ€™ve seen on a New York Stage. All of the 580 costumes pieces (thatâ€™s right-580!) were exquisitely designed by William Ivey Long. His workmanship is impeccableâ€”his designs support the â€œdreamâ€ and take the fantasy to an entirely new level.
Dreamgirls is enjoyable experience that the whole family would appreciate. Dreamgirls plays the Apollo Theater through December 12th. There are discounted Harlem Community shows for residents of Harlem. Visit www.apollotheater.org for details and information. Dreamgirls will tour nationally for a year with talk of a possible return to the Broadway stage. For tour information visit www.dreamgirlsonstage.com.
WORDS: C. Pitt