BWW Review: DREAMGIRLS at Fairfield Center Stage
On Saturday, March 2, I had the pleasure of seeing yet another phenomenal production by Fairfield Center Stage, DREAMGIRLS, performed at the Black Rock Church in Fairfield, CT. With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, and music by Henry Krieger, Director Brian Crook, Music Director Eli Newsom, and Choreographer Emily Frangipane combine their talents to bring out the best in this stellar cast.
The stage is a semi-circle shape with a giant movie screen in the back, and the talented live band on stage right. A few moving parts and effective use of lighting lead to smooth entrances and exits. The music primarily has a 1970s Motown sound to it.
The cast members all appear to be having a great time, and gel so well with each other with such strong stage chemistry, that all the characters come across as believable, as do the dynamics between each combination of characters. The harmonies are tight, and the emotions are strong.
Alana Cauthen shines in the lead role of Effie White, selling every note, line, and emotion. Effie is part of the three member group initially called the Dreamettes, and is known as the strongest singer. She is soon replaced as the lead singer by Deena Jones who is magnificently portrayed by Rachelle Legrand. Their manager felt as if Deena was better looking and therefore more marketable as the lead singer, despite not having quite as strong a voice. This leads to jealousy, anger, and resentment from Effie, particularly on the grounds that Effie was pregnant with their manager's baby, and the manager was showing a greater romantic interest in Deena than in Effie, an interest that was reciprocal. The audience feels for Effie. She is a very relateable character to anyone who ever has felt snubbed, overlooked, ignored, or replaced by someone who is less talented, but has better widespread appeal, whether due to physical appearance, more confidence, better people skills, or stronger connections. Effie truly shows why she should be the star in her moving rendition of "One Night Only," in which feeling and emotion shine through. Her rendition becomes immediately juxtaposed with a manufactured disco infused rendition of the same song, as performed with Deena as the lead singer, along with the other original Dreamette Lorrell (Jessica Paige) and Michelle (Renee Sutherland) who replaces Effie in the group when their manager gets tired of Effie's attitude and antics that he had ironically provoked. Regardless of which trio of Dreamettes (later known as Deena Jones and the Dreams) are performing, they perform smoothly together, showcasing the talents and teamwork of the actresses.
The manager is Curtis Taylor, Jr., a very slick businessman who has no artistic integrity and is more than willing to play someone else?s game, compromise musical styles, resort to payola, and sabotage competition in order to bring his acts to the top of the charts and get them booked on large venue tours. Khallid Graham is very convincing in this role, really bringing this character to life.
Marty, on the other hand, is a manager with artistic integrity and is not willing to sell out or conform to what he perceives is not consistent with the essence of his artists' talent. He is not willing to play someone else's game in order to advance the fortune and fame of his own artists, but would rather have his artists be true to themselves. Jeramie Gladman is excellent in this role that provides a sharp contrast to the managing style of Curtis Taylor, Jr.
Garth West gives a strong performance as CC White, the brother of Effie White. C.C. cares about his sister and wants what is best for her, but was willing to go along with Curtis? scheme of making Deena the lead singer, believing that move would ultimately benefit them all, even though it was heartbreaking and devastating for Effie.
Everton Ricketts excels in the role of Jimmy Early, taking the stage by storm as the lead singer who the Dreamettes backed at the start of their touring. This role showcases Everton Ricketts? powerful singing voice, strong acting skills, and commanding stage presence. Jimmy Early gets tired of singing sad songs and to a degree breaks the fourth wall, asking the audience to cheer him on for something more upbeat, which leads to "The Rap," which has more of a Sly & The Family Stone feel to it. During this song, he drops his drawers, which based on the early 1970s time frame provokes the ire of Curtis, who tells him that there is a difference between class and crass, a surprisingly responsible message from a sleazy character, but also one which made marketability sense, at the time, and also makes people stop and wonder how less than fifty years later, the latter has clearly become more marketable among mainstream musicians, even though crass remains classless.
Will the Dreamettes eventually accept how sleazy Curtis is and fire him? Will Deena eventually accept how sleazy Curtis is and leave him? Will Curtis find out that he is the father of Effie?s baby? If so, will they get back together? Will Effie and CC reconcile their differences? Will Marty get involved and take a chance on promoting Effie? Will all of Curtis? schemes eventually catch up to him? Will Jimmy leave his wife for Lorrell? Will Effie and Deena reconcile? If not, will they fight to the death? Come to the show and find out!
I highly recommend DREAMGIRLS which is scheduled to continue to run as produced by Fairfield Center Stage, at the Black Rock Church in Fairfield, CT, through Saturday, March 9. For times and tickets, please go to https://www.eventbrite.com/o/fairfield-center-stage-17558463863.