Saturday, June 1, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: Dream Girls -- The Palace

The cast. Photo: Levi Walker
Dream Girls
Music by Henry Krieger
Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Directed and Choreographed by Robert Longbottom (original direction and choreography by Michael Bennett)
Co-Choreographer Shane Sparks
The Palace Theater, Waterbury
Note:  (I saw understudies perform for the roles of Jimmy Thunder Early and Curtis Taylor, Jr. Early is regularly portrayed by Michael Jahlil. Understudy is JoNathan Michael. Aubrey Poo is the regular for Curtis. Two understudies are listed in the program: Dave Heard and Deonte Warren. Normally I wouldn't review a show where two of the main characters aren't played by the regulars, but the run ends today, so there won't be time to reschedule..... -- Lauren Yarger

What's it all about?
Deena Jones (Jasmin Richardson), Lorrell Robinson (Tonyia Myrie Rue) and Effie Whote (Charity Dawson) dream of getting a recording contract and making it to the top of the R&B charts. Effie's brother CCTerrance Johnson) writes a song for them to sing in a competition at the Apollo Theater in New York, where they are invited to sing backup for rising star Jimmy "Thunder" Early.

Lead singer Effie tells Early's manager, Marty (Koby Kindle) that she doesn't sing backup -- until she succumbs to the charms of Curtis Taylor, Jr., an ambitious and unscrupulous man who sees his chance to turn the "Dreamettes" into the chart-topping sensation "Dream Girls."

Effie falls hard for Curtis and Jimmy makes his moves on Lorrell, but relationships and friendships are strained when Curtis decides Deena should sing lead to give the group a new look and sound. Dawson gives a goose-bump raising rendition of the show's most famous number, "I'm Not Going" that makes this production worth watching all by itself. Effie becomes volatile and harder to work with in her depression and as Curtis turns his affections to Deena. Finally, Curtis hires Michelle Morris (Kimberly Michelle Thomas) to replace Effie in the group.

What are the highlights?
This show, which first hit the Broadway stage in 1981, holds up tremendously well over the years. It shows no signs of being dates, since it is set in the '60s and '70s anyway and the story still is touching with a lot of heart (Robin Wagner designs the minimal sets). An abundances of amazing quick-change costumes (designed by William Ivey Long) and excellent lighting design by Ken Billington are enhanced by media design by Lightswitch - Howard Werner that at one point projects a Busby Berkely-type effect for the choreography.

Dawson and Richardson blend voices for a terrific rendition of "Listen." All of the vocals are strong -- important for a show that's mostly sung.

What are the Lowlights?
The drums! Musical Supervisor Cherie Rosen needs to muffle them, especially on "I'm Not Going," where they seem to be competing with Effie as much as she competes with Deena.
The pace is somewhat slow and not as sharp as it could be during conrontation scenes. The run time is two hours and 45 minutes.

More information:
A short run at the Palace, 100 East Main St., Waterbury, there are performances this afternoon and evening. Tickets are $69, $59, and $49: 203-346-2000; www.palacetheaterct.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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