Dreamgirls Returns to WBTT Stage with a Big Production
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Theater critics, just like parents, have their favorites, whether they admit it or not. I’m talking shows here, certain ones we prefer and also certain shows that are not on the fave list. For me, Dreamgirls, now onstage at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, is one of the latter.
The show is often clunky in moving along its plot about a Supremes-like musical trio led to success—and suffering—largely at the hands of a Berry Gordy Jr.-like character. And I find it hard to buy into the relationship between singer Effie White and that Gordy stand-in, Curtis Taylor Jr.
That said, there’s obviously something about Dreamgirls that keeps returning it to the stage (this is WBTT’s third production of it) and succeeding on film as well, in the 2006 version that was both a critical and box office hit. So I’m always willing to be convinced that I’m wrong in my doubts.
The current production at WBTT goes some way towards making me appreciate the show more. It’s a big, often splashy evening filled with songs by Henry Krieger and lyrics/book writer Tom Eyen, ranging across the spectrum of 1960s and ‘70s soul, R&B, disco and Broadway tunes—the most memorable of which is always the Act I closer, the betrayed Effie’s dominating performance of “(And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going.” The changes of those decades not only touch on cultural appropriation, payola and the pros and cons of musical crossover, they naturally allow for an extensive showcase of costumes (designed by Darci Collins) as the Dreams trio evolves from young, naïve girls wearing hand-sewn dresses to glamorous icons with lavish stage styles and a multitude of wigs (by Dominique Freeman).
At the heart of it all is the rise of that trio: Effie (Shena Renee), Deena, the Diana Ross-like character (Caila Carter), and Lorrell (Maya Cuevas) who falls early and hard for a James Brown-type named Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Raleigh Mosely II, who seems to be having the time of his life enacting his character’s often outrageous stage antics). Opportunistic hustler Curtis (Brian L. Boyd) latches on to the girls early, too, soon advancing them from talent show competitions to backup positions for Jimmy to their own headlining act, often performing songs written by Effie’s brother C.C. (Nate Summers).
But of course there’s plenty of heartache along the way, as dreams and ambitions collide. Like those old Hollywood soap opera movies, though, at least the women get to look great while enduring it.
The WBTT show features a strong cast and some terrific dancing to choreography by Donald Frison that pays tribute to that in the original Broadway production, by Michael Peters and Michael Bennett. There’s a lot of expressive movement of the kind that will be familiar to anyone who watched Motown groups perform on television, back in the day, but Dreamgirls has its quieter dramatic moments intact, too, as when Curtis finally shows a tender side on “You Are My Dream.”
All along, there’s excellent music direction by Steven Zumbrun leading a band featuring six other musicians. And director Nate Jacobs, certainly familiar with the material here, keeps the rollercoaster ride of the Dreams moving smoothly to its finish.
Dreamgirls still may not be among my top picks of Broadway musicals, but this version is bound to please fans, so much so that ticket sales for the remainder of the run, through April 9, are fairly limited. But you can always try. Find out your chances by calling (941) 366-1505 or visiting westcoastblacktheatre.org.