Thursday, June 01, 2017

"Dreamgirls" is a Dream of a Production

The Dreams and Jimmy in Dreamgirls (Mark Kitaoka)


Dreamgirls
Village Theatre
Issaquah: through July 2, 2017
Everett: July 7 – 30, 2017

Best Musical Production of 2017 – so far for sure! Village Theatre has a bona fide hit on its hands with its final production of the season: Dreamgirls! The production is exciting, visually gorgeous, with a cast that is palpably having fun doing the show. It works on every level.

Steve Tomkins said it’s one of his “bucket list” musicals, one that he’s been wishing to do for a long time. Well, his choice to do it now speaks, also, to the growth of Village and its ability to field a sophisticated cast of mostly African-American talent who are mostly all located here, now, to accomplish this intense operetta (much of the dialogue in this musical is sung).

If you have never seen the 1983 stage musical or the 2006 movie, the plot takes inspiration from the real-life history of Motown founder Berry Gordy and the Supremes. A trio of naïve singers arrives in New York to make it big. A somewhat-shady “operator” takes them under his wing and defies expectation by finding a way to make R&B more palatable to “white” radio stations and helps them become stars. But only after pushing the larger, better singer to a supporting role to the one he thinks is prettier and with more star quality.

The musical demonstrates a lot of the seedy history of our country where white singers like Elvis and others heard a song and appropriated it into a hit by singing it themselves. The energy of change and civil rights in the 1960s and ‘70s did allow for breakout black stars to get the recognition they deserved.

Village is graced by the talents of Angela Birchett, who was just working on Broadway in The Color Purple revival. She plays Effie, the larger woman with the big voice who is temperamentally difficult and can’t step back from the lead of the Dreams. We are used to hearing the iconic song “And I Am Telling You” which Effie sings, but often it’s out of context. Here, Birchett is tormented, desperate, clinging, and needy. She acts the hell out of the song and brings a great deal more meaning to it.

Lauren Du Pree stars as Deena with Alexandria Henderson as Lorrell, the two other Dreams. John Devereaux stars as Curtis, their manager. Each of them does a great job at these characters from their early days to their more famous and sophisticated challenges.

The show I saw had Chandler Thomas go on for Charles Simmons as C.C., Effie’s brother and the songwriter who also makes it big. Thomas did a great job, seamlessly fitting into a tough understudy situation. The family talents of Ty Willis, who handily plays the older manager, Marty, and his two daughters, Bethanie and Shelby in the ensemble, are a particularly nice touch.

There is a “side” love affair between young Lorell and the fading R&B star and lothario Jimmy. However, Nathaniel Tenebaum apparently cannot help stealing every single scene he’s in! His amazing vocal talents are supreme and there is no denying him his due. Apparently, he has also relocated here, so we are destined (yes, yes, yes!) to see some powerful performances wherever people can fit him in!

But aside from the wonderful ensemble, I must give all kinds of kudos to the terrific team surrounding director Tomkins. From the period-appropriate choreography of Daniel Cruz, to the lush 16-piece orchestral sound headed by music director R.J. Tancioco, the concert-style lighting from Tom Sturge, and the flexible set by David Sumner, every aspect was on point.

Then there are the sumptuous and beautiful costumes from Karen Ann Ledger! They are bedazzled and be-trained (is that a thing?) and faux-furred, with eye-popping colors. And they go along beautifully with the big-haired wigs, courtesy Douglas Decker.

Aside from a few swear words, this musical is totally family-friendly and is so alive and fun that it’s sure to be a hit with the entire family. Take Grandma and your ten year-old. Bring the aunts and uncles and cousins. Everyone will want to dance and shout along with this show!

For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-392-2202.