Hands down one of my favorite movies of 2006 was ‘˜Dreamgirls.’ Not only did it have a wonderful cast (Jennifer Hudson ‘” who won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress; Eddie Murphy ‘” nominated for Best Supporting Actor; Jamie Foxx and Beyonce) but it had one kick butt soundtrack. All of the musical performances are outstanding in this show so obviously when I was notified it was coming live to the Arsht Center as part of the Broadway Across America series I knew I had to check it out.DREAMGIRLS is essentially the loosely based story of the 1960’s female super group Diana Ross and the Supremes. It chronicles their early beginnings as background vocalists, their meeting with famed manager Berry Gordy (in the show/movie Curtis Taylor Jr.) their rise to the top of the charts and emergence of Diana Ross as the ‘˜star’ and forefront singer of the group. We are taken on their journey of heartbreak, betrayal and triumph; basically the ‘˜contender Hollywood story,’ where everyone wins in the end. As cliché as it may be, it works. It was a wonderful stage production in 1981 (then starring Jennifer Holliday) and it still remains so. It is a truly universal story full of heart, soul and music that uplifts the spirit.
The cast for the 2010-2011 series of this troupe are all top notch and very recognizable to the Broadway stage. The Dreams are: Syesha Mercado (Deena Jones ‘” the pseudo ‘˜Diana Ross’ role and Diva in the making) is somewhat of a hometown girl to Florida. She was raised here and studied at Florida International University. She is also another American Idol alumni; she was second runner up in Season 7 and has the pipes to prove it. Adrienne Warren plays Lorrell Robinson. Adrienne recently toured with the rock super group Aerosmith, so you know she can definitely hold her own on stage. Margaret Hoffman is Michelle Morris and introducing Moya Angela as the powerhouse vocalist, strong willed Effie White. She starred in the ‘˜Lion King’ on Broadway and received rave reviews. She possesses one of those voices that just ring and glides upon the wind. She’s outstanding as Effie. Now to the fellas: Chaz Lamar Shepherd is wonderful as super agent Curtis Taylor Jr. (he recently appeared on Broadway in The Color Purple). Curtis is a great love him/hate him character. At the beginning he’s rather charming and smooth but somewhere along the line gets corrupted by fame and fortune. Don’t all super agents in Hollywood? I’m just asking. And no, I don’t like the character anymore in this production than I did Jamie Foxx in the film. After all, the guy started out as a Cadillac salesman. Nuff said. Chester Gregory is equally as brilliant as James “Thunder” Early. I have to admit while watching the film I was trying to figure out who the character James was based on. I’m guessing Marvin Gaye but I would be wrong. Chester made “Thunder,” his own in this production. He was fun, sexy, savvy and a grown up kid at the same time, possessing a kind of innocence that you just don’t quite buy. He’s a charmer, not only to the women in the show but the entire audience as well. Trevon Davis is C.C. White, Effie’s brother and songwriter extraordinaire. It’s his tunes that get the Dreams on the top of the charts and brings Effie back into the spotlight.
My favorite performance from the show is the heart stopping, pull at your heartstrings rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” The film version by Jennifer Hudson stopped me in my tracks and received a standing ovation by everyone in the movie theater. Jennifer Holliday’s original version was just as powerful and memorable. Moya Angela’s version in this show is all of the above. She delivers the song with wild abandon but never loses sight of its meaning or deep feeling. It truly is a great performance. She too garners a standing ovation, hoots and hollers, and genuine heartfelt affection from the audience. Obviously I was not the only person in attendance waiting for this moment, this song. She is outstanding. “One Night Only,” (Effie’s version ‘” I’m not wild on the dance track) is also a highlight for me. I can’t stress enough however the power of Chester Gregory’s performance. His vocal prowess is unshakeable and his high note resonated through the theater with the clarity of perfect pitch. Each time he took the stage was a treat. His ‘˜boxers’ moment was not only hysterical in the second act but priceless. For the song “Listen,” Deena and Effie (Syesha and Moya) share a duet. The original version in the film was a ‘˜Deena’ moment but these two ladies made it work and nailed it.
Robert Longbottom does an excellent job as director and choreographer. Shane Sparks shares the credit as co-choreographer. They do a wonderful job creating an atmosphere on stage that is not only believable and colorful but runs flawlessly. There isn’t a mark or dance step missed. The staging itself is not overwhelming; in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s rather sparse. Yet, it fits in well with what DREAMGIRLS is all about: the music and the story. There really is no need for lavish sets that slide and move and in some shows can be somewhat distracting. William Ivey Long (costume design) takes us back to the 1960’s in regal style. The Dreams especially have a style all their own that is reflected well throughout the show and showcases the changing times and dress of the 1960’s and 70’s. The final songs (“Hard To Say Goodbye,” and “Dreamgirls,”) with all four of the ladies are a lavish splash of color and regal elegance. This really is a wonderful show for the entire family. Make sure you catch it when it comes to a city near you. You won’t be disappointed.
DREAMGIRLS runs October 19-24, 2010 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.