Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by Henry Krieger
Directed & Choreographed by Robert Longbottom
Music Direction by Sam Davis
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre Chicago
Super fast paced, well sung and danced, Dreamgirls plays like a fun show!
The new National Touring production of the 1981 landmark Broadway Musical–Dreamgirls–owes much to original director-choreographer Michael Bennett’s breathtaking cinematic-style staging that keeps the action flowing most effectively. The shows constant motion is enhanced by Robin Wagner’s 5 large LED video panels set that constantly moves as it changes shapes with amazing lighting by Ken Billington. The cast goes through 580 costumes as it depicts the rise of R and B through the disco era, circa 1962-75. This eye-popping production unfolds as an R and B pop operetta as much of the story (and dialogue) is told in song and recitative.
The story chronicles up-and-coming 1960’s singing girl group as they experience the triumphs and tribulations found in fame and fortune. Deena Jones (Syesha Mercado), Lorrell Robinson (Adrienne Warren) and Effie White (Moya Angela) are The Dreamettes, a fledgling group that the ambitious agent Curtis Taylor (Chaz Lamar Shepherd) discovers and molds from backup singers for James “Thunder” Early (the fabulous rubber-legged Chester Gregory channeling James Brown) to a featured group.
From the start, Dreamgirls features an assortment of Henry Krieger music and Tom Eyen’s toe-tapping tunes, rich anthems, and soulful power ballads. Act One is a fabulous rhythmic trip through R and B, Blues and Soul with original songs written in the style of the famous MoTown tunes. The show stopper “Fake Your Way to the Top” and “Steppin’ to the Bad Side” (my favorite in the show) is an amazingly stylistic number rich in innovative choreography utilizing the stellar lighting and LED sets.
As in the entire show, the dances and the choreography by Robert Longbottom uses the Michael Bennett format to land terrific movement. “I Want You Baby” Chester Gregory’s tour de force song is a joy to behold!
But the first act’s core emotional moment occurs when Moya Angela, as Effie White, delivers the heart wrenching power ballad “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” with deep truth worthy of Jennifer Holiday or Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar winning rendition. Angela received a well deserved standing ovation as she sold the song quite convincingly.
At 2 hours and 40 minutes, Dreamgirls is about 20 minutes too long and it shows in act two as the story meanders a tad. The tone is melancholy and the songs become more bluesy. Angela belts another winning song-“I Am Changing” as Effie makes a comeback as a sole artist after Curtis eliminates her from the girl group. Chester Gregory as “Thunder” Early is outstanding. He is a discovery of Jackie Taylor from Black Ensemble Theater. He is Chicago’s gift to musical theatre. I also enjoyed the duet by Deene and Effie–“Listen” taken from the 2006 film.
Dreamgirls is a manic, polished and classy music and dance romp through Motown. You’ll quickly get excited by the sheer energy and deep emotional truth in this modern operetta. Powerful and richly evocative voices nail the tunes as the nuances of the struggles to attain and survive fame and fortune in the music world is sensitively presented. The joyous and angst ridden world of R and B music makes for a most engaging theatrical experience. The exemplary production values are amazing. Take a trip into the world of R and B-it’ll send you soaring.
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St, Chicago, IL, tickets $18 – $85, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, Thurs, Jan 21 at 7:30 pm, Fri, Jan 22 at 8pm, Sat, Jan 23 at 2 & 8 pm, sun, Jan 24 at 2 & 7;30 pm, Tues, Jan 26 at 7:30 pm, Wed, Jan 27 at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thur, Jan 28 at 7:30 pm, Fri, Jan 29 at 8 pm, Sat, Jan 30 at 2 & 8 pm, Sun, Jan 31 at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through January 31, 2010