Highly Recommended ***** How does one spell “perfection”? When it comes to the current production at Stage 773 , as presented by Porchlight Music Theatre, the word is “Dreamgirls”!!! This production, directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier, brings this large- scale Tony Award and Academy Award winning musical to their intimate space on Belmont allowing us to see this story unfold in a far more dramatic manner. The book (and Lyrics) by Tom Eyen with music by Henry Krieger is a simple story of a trio of girls from Chicago, who during the 60’s, bring themselves to the world of pop music through the trials and tribulations that faced the young performers during this hectic period of musical change in America.
To many, this story is of course based on Diana Ross and the Supremes, as they worked their way from background singers to a major act and Ms Ross went from “singer” to star and wife of promoter Gordy Berry. Oh, I am sorry, I should have said Deena Jones (gloriously played by Candace C. Edwards) and Curtis Taylor Jr. (Evan Tyrone Martin). The other trio members are Effie Melody White (Donica Lynn will astound you with her range and sound) and Lorrell Robinson (deftly handled by the adorable Katherine Thomas). These are three amazing talents!
The entire cast is a FIVE STAR one. What we see in the characters drawn in this story is akin to what was happening during this era regarding R & B groups along with “soul singers” who knew that they had to cross-over to “Rock ‘N Roll” to make it big. Not just the Supremes (who this trio is based on) but other groups such as The Shirelles and individuals like Jackie Wilson and James Brown. Brown is loosely represented by Jimmy Early (superbly brought to life by the very energetic Eric Lewis, who truly proves that good things come in small packages).
The ensemble is strong and energetic, and as most of you know, a strong ensemble makes for a solid show. This is a perfect example. Thanks to:Dawn Bless, Michelle Bester, Reneisha Jenkins, Cherise Thomas, Gilbert Domally, (who plays Effie’s songwriting brother), J. Michael Jones, Caleb Baze, Jared Grant, Brian Nelson Jr., Trequon Tate, Matthew Hunter and Andrew Malone. Between the costume (Bill Morey)and character changes along with the myriad of wigs (Kevin Barhel truly did his magic for this show), this is a show that holds the audience into the story from start to end. Needless to say, it is two and a half hours (with a 15 minute intermission), but feels much shorter thanks to the clever interpretation by Didier.
There is very little set for this show. A second level with moveable staircases that can be used and moved quickly (Jeffrey D. Kmiec and Greg Pinsoneault) keeps the thrust stage at Stage 773 workable. With the audience on three sides, the musicians under the solid direction of Doug Peck are moved to an upstairs side loft. Yet, they sounds of the songs are easy to hear and follow. The music of this show is designed to propel the story and take us from the 60’s into the 70’s. “I’M Somebody”, “One Night Only”, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, “Dreamgirls”, “Ain’ t No Party” and many others help us see the way that music changed during this period. The remaining tech parts of the show- sound by Robert Hornbostel, lighting by Denise Karczewski and props by Mealah Heidenreich complete the picture that Didier wanted us to see. A perfect performance which accounts for the great response.
What was a bit strange as I watched the audience at opening night for the press, was the number of teen-agers in the audience. I doubt that they were into the story as my generation was, but as the play progressed, they looked as if they were getting it! this is a feather in the cap of this performance company. After all, these are the “texters of society, sitting without their I-objects for almost three hours and learning about musical history without “Google”. Bravo!
“Dreamgirls” will continue at State 773 located at 1225 West Belmont Avenue thru May 22nd ( who knows, another extension could take place) with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m.
Added performances on Thursdays at 1:30 p.m .May 5th, 12th and 19th and Sunday May 8th at 7 p.m.
Tickets range from $38-$51 (a bargain for theater of this quality) and can be purchased by calling 773-327-5252, visiting the box office or online at www.porchlightmusictheatre.org
Check out the rest of the season, as purchasing a subscription can save you money.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Dreamgirls”