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BWW Review: DREAMGIRLS at Centre Stage

BWW Review: DREAMGIRLS at Centre Stage I'm going to be brutally honest.

When I heard that Jessica Eckenrod was going to play Effie in Centre Stage's production of Dreamgirls, I knew that no matter who else was cast, no matter who directed, no matter how the rest of the production came together, this was going to be a show worth seeing. Because of THAT moment. Because of THAT song.

And I am telling you, I'm not going to mince words - she killed it. Absolutely slayed it.

What a number. What a performance. What a voice.

Dreamgirls tells the story of three young singers looking for their big break in the music business. Tracing their career from the early sixties to the mid-seventies, Dreamgirls gives us a glimpse behind the scenes as we witness their travails with managers, lovers, and other stars who may or may not end up helping them along their way.

Director Paige Manwaring keeps the focus firmly placed on the relationships between the characters, intentionally stripping away the spectacle of giant sets and over-the-top costumes. The power of the production lies in the layered, very human performances undergirding the beautifully emotive vocals.

Jessica Eckenrod is simply terrific as Effie, a woman with an outsized personality and a voice to match. Earlier this year Eckenrod gave a devastating - and vocally stunning - performance as Sarah in Greenville Little Theatre's superb production of Ragtime, and here she follows up on that promise with another star turn.

Tierney Breedlove and Amesha L. McElveen also shine as Lorell and Deena, the other two original members of the Dreamettes. They grow from stars-in-their-eyes naivete' to Las Vegas royalty, even as they fight social pressures - to be prettier, to be thinner, to be, well, whiter.

The issue of race becomes even more critical to Jimmy "Thunder" Early, a James Brown-like character played with zest by Kristofer Parker. Early gets some of the show's best lines and comic moments and Parker handles them with ease, demonstrating a winning voice and great dance moves.

Other standouts include Roderice Cardell as the slick manager Curtis Taylor, Jr., Whitney Daniels as replacement singer Michelle, Brian Reeder as Jimmy's original manager, and DeBryant Johnson as songwriter - and Effie's brother - CC White.

Celia Blitzer's costumes lend just the right air of verisimilitude, giving us a great sense of the style evolutions of the era as well as the characters themselves. Choreographer William Wilkins echoes the iconic girl group moves at all the right times and gives Jimmy Early some terrific James Brown-style swagger. He also manages to bring a unified feel to the movements, again helping them reveal character as much as provide flash.

The one disappointing part of the production for me was the sound. Maybe it was where I was sitting, maybe it's the acoustics of the house, but the voices were never quite as loud and bright as I wanted them to be. There were some powerhouse vocal moments to be sure, and they were all impressively performed. But I really wanted to be hit with a wall of sound, to have the vocals reverberate throughout the space, to envelop us like they would in a concert setting. It made the action feel a little bit distant, instead of inviting us in. Dreamgirls is a powerful show, and it's powerfully sung. It could use a little more aural clarity, though, to make it really hit all the high notes.

Directed by Paige ManWaring
Choreography by William Wilkins
Music Direction by Taylor Marlatt

September 13 - 30
Special Wednesday Performance on September 26
Thurs.- Sat. 8pm
Sat. Matinee 2pm (September 22 and 29)
Sun. 3pm

Tickets for Dreamgirls are $35, $32, and $22. Student rush tickets are available for $20 with school ID (based on availability), one ticket per ID.

Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (864) 233-6733 on Tuesdays - Fridays from 2-6 p.m, in person at the Centre Stage Box Office, or online at

Photo credit: Wallace Krebs

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From This Author Neil Shurley