Review: Cupcake Theater Moves DREAMGIRLS into the Saban Theatre for One Very Special Night
The head of the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills came to see DREAMGIRLS, produced by Michael Pettenato and directed and choreographed by Tor Campbell at the 180-seat Cupcake Theater in North Hollywood earlier this year, and believed they absolutely could not let the brilliant show end without giving people on the Westside a chance to see it. And who were they to say no? Under Pettenato's care, the group packed up 450 costumes and boxes of wigs, and headed to Beverly Hills for a one-night only show on Thursday, December 6, 2018.
The Saban is an enormous, classical theater from the heyday of Hollywood movie houses which have been refurbished for live theater with all the bells and whistles, allowing shows from smaller locations to experience the joys, as well as the struggles, of thrilling much larger, appreciative audiences. And other than a faulty sound system, due to another performer's designers deleting all the show's settings the night before, it's easy to see why DREAMGIRLS was Cupcake Theater's highest rated show online for the entire length of the production.
The talented cast of 24 was scouted for next year's Broadway Revival with several now set for their Great White Way debuts in the show. Although there was no program distributed at the performance, I can tell you all the leads are extraordinary triple-threat performers, including powerhouse singer Dominque Kent as Effie, Shaunté Tabb as Deena, Courtney Kendall as Lorrell, Apollo Levine as Curtis, and the amazing James Brown-like Chad Ra'shun at Jimmy.
For those not familiar with this award-winning musical, DREAMGIRLS with Book by Tom Eyan, Music by Henry Krieger and Lyrics by Tom Eyan takes place in 1962 when young car salesman Curtis Taylor Jr. meets a black girl group known as "The Dreamettes" at an R&B amateur talent show. The trio, consisting of lead singer Effie White and backup singers Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson, so impresses Curtis that he presents himself as The Dreamettes' new manager and arranges for the girls to become backup singers for R&B star Jimmy "Thunder" Early.
Curtis soon starts his own record label, Rainbow Records, out of his car dealership, and appoints Effie's brother C.C as his head songwriter. But when their first single fails after a white pop group releases a cover version of it, C.C. and Curtis turn to payola to make "Jimmy Early & The Dreamettes" mainstream pop stars. Meanwhile, offstage Effie becomes infatuated with Curtis while the married Jimmy begins an affair with Lorrell.
With the aid of new songs and a new image, Curtis and C.C. transform The Dreams into a top-selling mainstream pop group. By 1965, however, Effie begins acting out, particularly when Curtis' affections also turn towards Deena. As Effie's behavior threatens to derail their blossoming success, Curtis drops Effie from the group, hiring his secretary Michelle Morris to take her place beginning with their 1966 New Year's Eve debut in Las Vegas as "Deena Jones & the Dreams." Despite Effie's defiance and desperate appeal to Curtis, he, C.C., and The Dreams leave her behind and forge ahead to stardom.
As their fortunes rise and fall, the girls' story exposes the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry. Often compared to the rise and fall of The Supremes, a very similar all-black female trio brought to fame by Barry Gordy, The Dreams fights its way to the top, losing its moral bearings in the process, then finding them again, ending the show on a very positive note. The classic score includes "Steppin' to the Bad Side," "Cadillac Car," and "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" and many more, all performed live to perfection at the Saban. And special kudos to the production's costume designer!
Hopefully future musical productions at the Cupcake Theater, located at 11020 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood, will keep generating the same type of excitement to fill their theater every night. Follow them at cupcaketheater.com or call (323) 391-3416 for more information on upcoming productions and to purchase tickets.
Photos by JDC Photography