DREAMGIRLS An Unforgettable Electrifying Musical Masterpiece
(Photos By Joan Marcus)
DREAMGIRLS is why show business was born. Let's not mince words. It you don't have tickets to see DREAMGIRLS at the Arsht Center, stop reading this review and get your tickets now. I forgive you. There are words that can't be found to describe the abundance of gifts from the theatrical gods that is DREAMGIRLS.
It was one of those nights in the theater that we dare to hope for, but never really expect to happen. I do hope the foundation of the Ziff at the Arsht is still safe and stable for future audiences. Last night, the bravos, cheering, goose bumps, and standing ovations after each act certainly put the mere building materials of the Arsht Center, to the test. The Arsht is still standing, as it houses a towering achievement, which is this production of DREAMGIRLS.
This backstage musical drama of a girl singing group in the 1960s is loosely based on the lives and careers of The Supremes. Effie, the hefty lead singer with the greatest voice, is pushed to the background for the more Diana Ross-like Deena to take her part as lead singer. The changes are controlled by snake-like Curtis. He is a ruthless, indeed evil man, who pushes aside his relationship with Effie just as he pushes Deena to downstage center. This conflict leads us to the magnificently powerful musical centerpiece of the show, ‘And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going.' Did Moya Angela deliver on this show stopper? Of course she did. The audience was delirious with anticipation as the song was starting. Ms. Angela's performance of the show's most amazing musical sequence is just one of the reasons my throat is sore from bravoing and that I am hung over from lack of sleep with the grandeur of this show continually racing through my mind.
Many were tearful throughout last night's performance. In part because of the drama unfolding onstage, and in part because this musical is so damn great, that its constant assault on the senses make it clear that DREAMGIRLS is a work for the ages.
One cannot help but wonder what the genius, Michael Bennett, DREAMGIRL's creator and original director and choreographer, was thinking from the Broadway of the heavens. He would indeed be pleased that his work survives, with such power, some 30 years after it premiered on Broadway. Our heart aches at the tragic loss of Mr. Bennett at such a young age to the plague which claimed the lives of so many in Broadway's creative community. It makes the mind giddy with theatrical dreams, thinking of what Mr. Bennett, had he lived, would have accomplished in terms of gifts to us from the stage. Based on the original production, Robert Longbottom with assistance from Shane Sparks, deserve their own bouquet of bravos for directing and choreographing this production. Their presentation of Bennett's work is at times mind blowing and at times simply breathtaking.
Henry Krieger's music and Tom Eyen's book and lyrics have excellent moments. This has never been a show ‘about' a great musical score. It was Bennett's feat of theatrical wizardry that made the music, lyrics, and book, serve the ingenious staging that he set forth. DREAMGIRLS is a show of ‘impossibly brilliant' direction, choreography, design, and performance.
You do not get a grander design team than that assembled for this production of DREAMGIRLS. The scenic design, by the master, Robin Wagner, is nothing short of, well, masterful. Ken Billington's lighting and Howard Werner's media design still have me marveling in amazement and joy. You simply must see their work to encounter what they have accomplished. They have clearly inspired new heights of wonder from the mind of costume designer, William Ivey Long. Mr. Long is in no need of more great reviews or awards. He has so very many of both. However, with his designs for DREAMGIRLS, Mr. Long has perhaps capped his career with the greatest work he has brought us thus far. Giddy about DREAMGIRLS? I sure am.
Chester Gregory is the most fabulous James ‘Thunder' Early I have ever seen. And I believe I have seen most of them. If anyone is in doubt of what the term triple threat performer means, take in Mr. Gregory's turn as Jimmy Early. Led by his wonderful instrument of a singing voice, Mr. Gregory's dance moves are so energy packed we fear he may injure himself. Within this wonder of a singer/dancer lays the soul of a very fine actor. Mr. Gregory had us in the palm of his hand last night and he never let go. There was a danger that he might steal every scene he was in. He almost did. But the original work of Mr. Bennett and Mr. Longbottom's work here make sure that this musical never veers off course and DREAMGIRLS is a glorious ‘whole,' with no stealing allowed by anyone.
The entire cast is, indeed, at the top of their game. They have been given the material and the guidance to touch us from deep in their souls and grab our hearts with uncanny ease. Of course there were a performer or two who did not totally grab me and I think may have been miscast. But I shant quibble here. Quibbling is not for a musical landmark, that is DREAMGIRLS.
Syesha Mercado gives a surprising, touching and lovely performance as Deena, the ‘Diana Ross' character of show. Brought to fame by AMERICAN IDOL a couple of seasons ago, hers is a beautifully sung and nuanced performance and she keeps from being blown off the stage by Moya Angela as Effie.
This revival of DREAMGIRLS includes the song "Listen" written for and featured in the film version. It is a tour de force duet by Effie and Deena, performed near show's end. The song is nothing short of magnificent as sung by Ms. Angela and Ms. Mercado. This number gave the audience at the Arsht another chance to challenge the theater's structural foundation. The theater survived and long may these two performers reign as royalty of the theatrical world.
My thesaurus is on overdrive and I haven't really discussed the performance of Moya Angela as Effie. With all due respects to all the Effies I have seen, including anyone named Jennifer, this young lady is a force of nature. Her performance is nothing short of fantastic. Hers is a thrilling turn as Effie. Try to keep your eyes off her when she is onstage doing anything. Try to control your tears when her voice overcomes you with gut wrenching power. Ms. Angela is a marvel. I will never forget her performance as Effie, and I hope to see it again.
Not too many performances such as this come across very often in anyone's lifetime. Do whatever you can to get tickets. Whatever you do, do not miss this production of DREAMGIRLS.
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