BWW Reviews: DREAMGIRLS at Atlanta Lyric Theater, a glittering showbiz sensation
It's just showbiz, full of shining costumes, big breaks and betrayal. The Lyric Theater's production of DREAMGIRLS opened last weekend at the Jennie T. Anderson theater, a gorgeous musical spectacle.
Loosely based on the real-life saga of the Supremes, DREAMGIRLS follows the trio created by Effie, Deena and Lorrell. Kayce Grogan-Wallace, Judith Franklin and Chimére Scott captured the spirit of "The Dreams," from their backup singer oohs and ahhs to their solo career at the top of the charts.
The show opened on a talent contest at The Apollo Theater, immediately placing the audience in 1960s Harlem and the initial five back-to-back songs take the girls from an amateur competition to their first paying gig singing behind the headliner of the night.
When Garrett Turner appeared onstage as Jimmy Early, there was no trouble in believing he was a super star. Sure, the singer is a crazy man - screaming, shouting and having scandalous affairs - but Turner pulled it off with just the right amount of heart inserted in Jimmy's over-the-top theatricality.
DREAMGIRLS' songs double as performance and plot, their singles often carefully mirroring the growing tension within the group as the Dreamettes become The Dreams and Deena takes center stage. Franklin gracefully navigated Deena's story, giving her the poise of a star-in-the-making while maintaining an empathetic sweetness as lead singer of the trio (her voice is also lovely).
Every glittery number in DREAMGIRLS enjoyable but the pre-intermission showstopper, "And I am Telling You," is the reason the musical is shines so bright. And let me tell you, Grogan-Wallace gave the performance we all cross our fingers is coming when Curtis (Kevin Harry) delivers his backstabbing news. Her Effie was as desperate and manic as her voice was rich and powerful, the crescendo bringing some in the audience to their feet as her voice filled the theater.
The best costuming quick-change came in Grogan-Wallace's second ballad of the night, a tight spotlight allowed a switch from everyday-casual to nightclub-singer-chic. Overall, the costumes were fabulous, especially in the second act when the Dreams got to have some diva moments in sequin-heavy creations and extravagant hair. There were a few mystifying choices but then again, it was the 1970s.
The choreography of the show's disco era and earlier Motown-esque style, created by director and choreographer Ricardo Aponte, utilized the snappy ensemble in the few big production numbers. It is mostly a show that is set onstage, putting most of the work on Franklin and Grogan-Wallace's shoulders as the faces of their respective singing careers - Deena as queen of the pop charts and Effie as a soulful crooner.
But the core group of characters, including Scott, Harry, Tina Fears as Michelle and Lawrence A. Flowers as C.C., all have moments in the second act to show off their vocal abilities. Or in the case of Turner, a rap performed to thunderous applause.
Yes, it's a musical about showbiz but it's more about love. The show's title song suggests, "All you have to do is dream" but as the final notes of the reprise echo into the theater, the characters are left to reconcile the brutal road to fame with the love lost along the way. It's a beautiful moment as the voices harmonize, hopefully looking towards their new dreams.