BWW Reviews: Each Performer Makes Voice Heard in SNS' DREAMGIRLS
One of the underlining themes of DREAMGIRLS is the battling of egos as each of the members of a fictional Motown supergroup, the Dreamettes, struggle to get their tuneful voices heard. The beautiful thing about the Short North Stage's production of writer Tom Eyen's musical is each member of the show brings something unique and beautiful to the two-act, two-and-a-half hour show.
The result is not a cacophony of voices but a soul-stirring mixture of harmony and that Columbus should not miss. The SNS presentation of DREAMGIRLS will run Oct. 26-Nov. 26 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).
The show, directed by Edward Carignan, is not supposed to be an autobiography of Diana Ross and The Supremes, it is not very hard to see where Eyen drew his inspiration. In a 2007 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Ross said she still had not seen either musical or the movie, which starred Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson. "I know it is not our story, and I know that they have taken images and likenesses of our story and used that," Ross said.
DREAMGIRLS is not just a story about a girls group; it tells the story of Motown and the rise of African-American music in this country. The story centers on the Dreamettes, a struggling rhythm and blues trio, driven by the powerful, driven vocals of Effie Melody White (played by Amber Knicole) and backed up by Deena Jones (Lisa Glover) and Lorrell Robinson (Kat Lee). Despite White's objections that Dreamettes are no one's backup singers, the group reluctantly agrees to tour with R&B star James Thunder (Earley Dean) and take on Curtis Taylor Jr. (Xzantiny Grant) as its Svengali manager.
Taylor realizes the band's future is not with White as the lead vocalist but with more attractive, more pop-friendly voice of Jones. The trio changes their name from Dreamettes to the Dreams to eventually Deena Jones and the Dreams and shifts their sound to a reverberation that would connect with a white audience. The change doesn't sit well with White, who becomes more and more difficult to work with and is unceremoniously dumped in favor of Michelle Morris (Amirah Lomax).
The great thing about this cast is each one of the performers could hold their own on the stage. The Dreamettes each get their moment in the spotlight. Knicole, the lead singer of Columbus' neo-funk and soul band MojoFlo, lends her powerful vocals to "I Am Changing" while Glover, Lee, and Lomax carry the trio through most of the post-White era.
But the talent is not just limited to the title performers. Dean is an amalgam of 60s stars. Throughout the night, the audience is trying to figure out which performer he's mining for his role: "He's James Brown .... No, wait he's Otis Redding. No, no, no. He's Little Richard." Dean is good at all of them.
Grant along with Chaz Coffin (C.C. White) and R. Lawrence Jenkins provide the dramatic backbone to these vocal talents that turn the performance into something more than just a tribute to Supremes or Motown. A talented corps of dancers and singers flesh out the production. Under the direction of Marcus Davis, a seven-piece orchestra of Adam Bidwell (trumpet), Alex Blumenthaler (bass), Phil Brown Dupont (piano), Zac DelMonte (keyboards/percussion), Larry Marotta (guitar), Tom Regouski (reeds), and Joe Spurlock (percussion) flawlessly present the musical score.
The emotional apex to the show may be the song "Hard to Say Goodbye" as the reunited Dreamettes sing: "We had a good life together/Just remember, remember, all the times we had/But no matter how far I may go. In my heart/you'll always be there."
The same can be said for this production. Other shows will come and go but the quality and the message of DREAMGIRLS will stay with audiences for a long time to come.
Short North Stage presents a month-long run of DREAMGIRLS at 8 p.m. Oct. 26-28, Nov. 2-4, Nov. 9-11, Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 24-25, and 3 p.m. matinees Oct. 28-29, Nov. 4-5, Nov. 11-12, Nov. 18-19 and Nov. 25-Nov. 26 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus). For information, call 614-725-4042.