Stunning revival of “Dreamgirls” kicks off national tour at the Apollo
It has long been an article of faith among musical theater devotees that a Broadway revival of “Dreamgirls” was inevitable and would come in the fullness of time. When the movie came out in 2006, hopes surged particularly high. Well, it may not be on Broadway yet, but a new production of “Dreamgirls” is about to set off on a national tour, and it’s kicking off, aptly enough, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
This boisterous, joyful revival is a reminder of what a brilliant show “Dreamgirls” is. Director Robert Longbottom has done for this show what he couldn’t do with the revival of “Bye Bye Birdie” –– he’s filled it with life, emotion, rich characters, and an infectious energy that sweeps the audience up from the opening number. While “Birdie” seemed like a dated set piece, “Dreamgirls” is vibrantly alive. Both shows are manufactured and rely on conventional stories about popular culture, but “Dreamgirls,” for all its machinations, felt real. If there was a dry eye in the house at the end of the performance I attended, I didn’t see it.
The story follows the members of a girl group — the Dreamettes, later the Dreams — from 1962 through 1975. It chronicles the ups and downs of trying to break into the business and cross over from the R&B charts to the pop charts –– with particular attention to the fortunes of Deena Jones, the beautiful one, and Effie White, the less conventionally pretty girl with the better voice –– as they ride the roller coaster of fame. It is essentially a show about finding one’s voice set to a Motown beat. Henry Krieger’s score sounds as great as ever, even in the pared down orchestrations for touring, and Ton Eyen’s book and lyrics still work their magic.
But what really ignites the evening is the cast — most of whom were probably not born when the original “Dreamgirls” played Broadway, which debuted in 1981. This group gives it everything they’ve got and then some. Syesha Mercado as Deena is both elegant and fragile, capturing the power and vulnerability that comes with the fame she achieves. Chaz Lamar Shepherd is outstanding as Curtis Taylor, Jr., the car dealer turned manager, and Trevon Davis does a great job as C.C. White, Effie’s brother and the songwriter for the group.
The standouts of the production are Chester Gregory as James “Thunder” Early and Moya Angela as Effie. Gregory is at first cocky and explosive and subsequently when the music business passes him by, shattered and desperate. It’s a tour de force performance that is completely unforgettable.
As Effie, Angela has a rafter-raising voice, a sweet soul, and an iron will. Effie is really the heroine of the piece, the one who doesn’t compromise, takes her lumps, but inevitably survives with her self intact — the only one of the characters to do that. Angela stops the show, as might be expected, with the first act closer “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” and she keeps building on that through “I am Changing” and “One Night Only.” Angela gets billing as “introducing,” and what an introduction this is. She is already a star.
This production heads out on the road in a few weeks, and it is being eagerly anticipated in Chicago and LA, at least according to my theater friends in those cities. Will it come back to New York and make a home on Broadway? The rumors are already flying. In the meantime, if you miss this at the Apollo, fly anywhere you must to catch this “Dreamgirls.” It’s truly a dream come true.
For Complete Information:
253 W. 125th St. at
Tue.-Sat. at 8 p.m.
Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.
Sun. at 3 p.m.
Through Dec. 12 only