Review: Goodspeed wraps its season with ‘Dreamgirls’
“Dreamgirls,” being staged now at Goodspeed Opera House, is a perpetual motion machine.
The scenes are short and punchy, and then the story zips to a separate location and a new time. Since the show is mostly sung, the numbers propel from one into another, giving individual performers a chance to show their chops. (We’ll get to “(And I Am Telling You) I’m Not Going” in a bit.)
This production, directed with verve and insight by Lili-Anne Brown, does right by its source material, which became an iconic modern musical pretty much as soon opened on Broadway in 1981. Its impact expanded even more when, in 2006, it was made into a movie starring Beyonce.
The tale is inspired by the history of the Supremes — their rise to fame as part of Motown, and then the elevation of Diana Ross over the other members of that girl group. Here, Deena is the Diana figure. Deena is an attractive woman with a fine but not stupendous voice who takes over the lead singing from bring-down-the-house vocalist Effie, who isn’t deemed conventionally pretty or thin enough to be center stage by the powers that be. The trio — first named the Dreamettes and then the Dreams — is managed by Curtis, who moves their sound from R&B to pop in an effort to attract more of the white audience and bigger success. He also drops his romantic relationship with Effie and pursues one instead with Deena.
In each iteration of “Dreamgirls,” the role of Effie has provided the actress playing her a chance for a star turn, thanks to the numbers “(And I Am Telling You) I’m Not Going” and “I Am Changing” she gets to sing. Jennifer Holliday shot to stage fame and earned a Tony for the Broadway version, and Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for the film adaptation.
In the Goodspeed production, Trejah Bostic has the honor of taking on the role of Effie. In those two iconic numbers, Bostic lets her voice rip — rising and falling and building to rattle-the-rafters dynamism and beauty. A side note: in “I Am Changing,” her costume change onstage — a rather basic dress slipping off to reveal a more chic one — got applause the night I saw the production.
He’s a scene stealer
The show might be called “Dreamgirls,” but one of the most scintillating stars at Goodspeed is someone else — scene stealer Mykal Kilgore. He plays the James Brown-esque performer Jimmy, and Kilgore excels at embodying Jimmy’s wildman stage charisma and cheeky sense of humor. And he has a bell-like voice that lifts every number he sings. When he hits those high notes, it is chill-inducing. I wish there were more Jimmy in the show, especially the second act, when “Dreamgirls” gets a little cluttered and clotted as it tries to resolve all its drama-filled plotlines.
Ta-Tynisa Wilson, meanwhile, eloquently conveys how her character of Deena grows from a timid teen to a confident diva. Quite a transformation.
In the smaller role of Lorrell, the other original member of the Dreams, Keirsten Hodgens makes good use of her full, rich voice.
Evan Tyrone Martin brings a coiled intensity to the controlling Curtis. He conveys that this is a man who is driven to make the Dreams chart-toppers, whether that requires payola or cutting singers loose. Martin also has a wonderful voice, which is showcased particularly well on “You Are My Dream.”
The fact that “Dreamgirls” charges through various eras means the score — Tom Eyen did the lyrics and book, Henry Krieger the music — gets to experiment with different musical styles, from Jimmy’s rollicking R&B to the Dreams’ polished pop to two versions of “Cadillac Car” — a spirited one by Jimmy, backed by the Dreamettes, and then as a saccharine, personality-free ballad by a white trio, which is hilarious.
The time-hopping also must have made the costume and wig department extra busy. I lost count of the different outfits the “Dreamgirls” main trio wear during the night, culminating with glittering gowns. And the actresses seem to have a new wig for each fresh ensemble. Their first wigs look a little dime-store, reflecting the fact that they are striving youngsters at that point. By the end, after they’ve achieved stardom, those wigs are gorgeous and, in one case, is an architectural marvel: a high-fashion, creatively coiffed tower of hair for Deena as she poses for a photo layout. All due credit goes to costume designer Samantha C. Jones and to wig, hair and make-up designer Earon Chew Nealey.
Every once in a while, the production has an element that is too broad or predictable, like the red lights bathing everything during the song “Steppin’ to the Bad Side.” But “Dreamgirls” is a fine, upbeat way for Goodspeed to wrap its season.
Where: Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam
When: Through Dec. 30; showtimes 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., and 2 p.m. Sun.; also 2 p.m. select Thursdays and 6:30 p.m. select Sundays; check website for Christmas week schedule
Tickets: Start at $30
Contact: (860) 873-8668, goodspeed.org
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