Circle Players to Present DREAMGIRLS, 1/23-2/2

Cristina Fentress (Effie), Kelsey Porter (Deena) and LaToya
Gardner (Lorrell) Cara Richardson. Photo by Cindy Blanchard.

Circle Players presents the hit Broadway musical DREAMGRILS, running January 23 - February 2, 2014.

Mid-way through its 64th season, Circle Players will offer the flashy and ambitious musical Dreamgirls. The production is in collaboration with Tennessee State University and will be presented at the Cox-Lewis Theater of TSU's Performing Arts Center. Dreamgirls features an impressive cast of more than 35 performing artists from the Nashville community and students at TSU. And there are nearly as many artists working behind the scenes, led by Director Josh Waldrep.

"I like big musicals. I'm an 80's musical kind of guy: Les Mis, Miss Saigon; the bigger the better," says Waldrep. "This is one of those 80's musicals that has always resonated with me-- the music, the historical significance of the era. If I weren't directing it, I'd want to be in the show!"

Waldrep is best known locally as a talented actor/singer who has performed in many productions by Circle Players and other community theater organizations. He spent the last couple of years preparing for his directorial debut and is thrilled, as well as nervous to have that experience at the helm of Dreamgirls with Circle Players.

"It's all very meaningful to me. My second show in community theater was with Circle," says Waldrep. "I've met so many people there and love Circle shows. It's a family-type atmosphere and I'm fortunate to have a great team for Dreamgirls. Also, people love this show and want to be a part of it. I think the reason will be obvious once we get it on stage."

Dreamgirls is the story of a make-believe, all-female group that makes it big in the '60s and '70s while facing the triumphs and tribulations that come with fame and fortune. It's loosely based on the story of Motown acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles and The Temptations. Since the play's original run in the early 1980s, Dreamgirls has exploded in popularity thanks to the 2006 film starring Beyonce? Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx.

The central characters are a female trio called the Dreamettes: Deena Jones, played by Kelsey Porter; Lorrell Robinson, played by LaToya Gardner; and the iconic Effie White, played by Cristina Fentress. The 3 female performers are regular actresses on Nashville stages. But they had to earn the roles through a competitive 3-day audition process. Waldrep says each bring nuances to the roles that go beyond talent.

OUR MISSION STATEMENT: Circle Players' aim is to promote public education appreciation and enjoyment of dramatic literature, stagecraft, fine arts and the theatre through the production of plays and by conducting other related activities.

"Like Kelsey-- she has a subtle, quiet beauty about her which is Deena. Lorrell is the strongest of the entire group because she's in it from beginning to end, singing through all the backstage drama, and LaToya is such a strong, talented woman. Cristina's ability and style are perfect for Effie, and Kala (Ross) is unfamiliar in Nashville theater-- like her character, Michelle, who was unknown and plopped into the group."

Another featured performer who is new to Nashville community theater but grew up here and graduated from TSU is David Ridley, who plays Jimmy "James Thunder" Early.

"David, no doubt in my mind, IS Jimmy," says Waldrep. "He acts like a headliner and would probably grab audience attention on any stage. Jimmy must have flair and soul-and David has those."

But Ridley won't be imitating Eddie Murphy's well-known performance in the movie version of DREAMGIRLS.

"When I got the word that I would be Jimmy Early, I tried to create the character as my own," says Ridley. "It [this character] is in me; it's just the feelings that I have."

It's also easy for Ridley to slip into the Motown sound. He recently ended a stint as a featured performer in The Soul of Motown show in Pigeon Forge. Before that, he spent 4 years performing and traveling the world with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line until deciding to bring his talents back on land and home to Nashville.

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