note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
You know a play is great when it dazzles, sparkles with jaw-dropping, stage gizmos and effects, gorgeous costumes, and an immensely talented cast. But when a packed audience walks out singing, dancing, and clucking excitedly about how fantastic a show is, while leaving reluctantly, hoping to catch that final musical note, you know the show’s a mega-hit, a spectacular production that delivers in a big way.
And while discussing big, the big star in “Dreamgirls,” (a musical loosely based on the magnificent success story of Motown’s Diana Ross and the Supremes), is Moya Angela, portraying fictional Effie White, former hometown lead singer of the group, Dreamettes, of Chicago. Angela’s bombastic voice and earnest, realistic delivery of the singer who’s tossed over, romantically and professionally, draws foot-stomping applause in her every heart-rending, soulful scene and number. Calling the play an imitation or mirror of her own life, Angela performs with such intensity, stamina, and verve, especially in her solos, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” at the end of the first act, and her comeback in “I Am Changing” and “One Night Over,” she’s like fireworks on the Fourth of July - compelling, riveting.
Also there are notable similarities between “Dreamgirls” fictitious big star, James “Thunder” Early, and the irreverent James Brown, who overwhelmed audiences with his gyrations, glitzy costumes, and dramatics, including donning a cape a‘ la Elvis, and dropping to the stage during numbers. Actor James Harkness captures all this with aplomb, with his multi-range voice and sensuous movements, in every number, especially his solos.
Pretty former “American Idol” runner-up Syesha Mercado is sweetly swept into the spotlight and fame as former Dreamette-turned-Dream lead singer, Deena Jones, and becomes an international fashion icon and star, as she evolves from an 18-year-old, smalltown backup singer in 1962 to Motown superstar; and Adrienne Warren as stable, pragmatic singer, Lorrell Robinson, who becomes involved in a seven-year, hopeless relationship with the married Early, is delightful. The girls’ career is catapulted and evolves under the sleazy leadership of former Cadillac salesman-turned-agent Curtis Taylor Jr., who exploits and manipulates Effie, her easygoing songwriter brother, CC White, and Deena. Chaz Lamar Shepherd as Curtis, Trevon Davis as CC, and this entire energetic cast of 26 are fantastic. Every performer and the fabulous orchestra deliver exciting impact to Henry Krieger’s music, Tom Eyen’s book and lyrics, and Willy Reale’s additional contributions.
“Dreamgirls” took six Tonys and several other awards when it debuted on Broadway in 1981; the movie won Oscars in 2006, and this touring company has regenerated excitement among theatergoers internationally, from its opening in Harlem at the Apollo Theater in 2009. Robert Longbottom’s slick direction and choreography; Robin Wagner’s eye-popping stage design, with movable panels, along with stunning backdrops of Paris, Las Vegas, New York, and other sites; William Ivey Long’s gorgeous costumes; Ken Billington’s brilliant lighting design, including multi-colored LEDs and swirling spotlights have recreated a new, scintillating production.
box info: New, national tour of musical “Dreamgirls,” making its Boston debut through Feb. 14 at the Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street, Boston. Performances are Wednesday,Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2,7:30 p.m.; additional matinee performance Thursday, Feb. 11, at 1 p.m. Tickets at $42.50-$91.50, are available at Ticketmaster, by calling 800-982-2787, all Ticketmaster outlets, by visiting BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Boston, or at the Box Office.