Made popular again by a 2006 film of the same name, the musical Dreamgirls, which deals with the rise-to-fame of a female African-American musical act in the racially-charged climate of the 1960s, is the kind of large-scale musical that is typically put on in an equally large-scale theatre. Despite that fact, Theatre Raleigh, as part of its Hot Summer Nights Series, has chosen to put on the show in the minimalist space of the Kennedy Theatre. The result is a fiercely fun musical that proves that, with the right talent, both onstage and behind the scenes, a large performance space is not necessary.
Under the skillful direction of Lauren Kennedy, who utilizes every aisle, nook, and cranny to showcase the performers and bring the show to life, and the expert set design of Chris Bernier, the small space of the Kennedy Theatre manages to look much larger than it is. A staircase on each side of the stage and a balcony-style platform up-top make the space appear much more dimensional. Thomas Mauney’s skilled lighting design also helps to open up the theatre and take the viewer into the world of a trio of singers known as “The Dreams.”Also dazzling here is Abbey O’Brien’s bold choreography, which perfectly utilizes the stage (and its small size) by focusing on simple yet impressive dance moves.
But, of course, the story is the most important part of any play, and this one, written by Tom Eyer with music by Henry Krieger, is immensely immersing. As mentioned, it follows this girl group as it climbs the ladder of fame and is faced with racially-unfair practices, as well as in-group unfair practices, along the way.
Alexis Sims is beautiful and intriguing as Deena, a back-up singer who gets turned into a star, almost against her will, due to her good looks. With all the charm of a Disney princess, Sims makes Deena likable, even as she inadvertently stabs her best friend, Effie (Brittany Walters) in the back by taking her place as lead singer.
Walters perfectly plays the jealous, resentful, and above all, immensely talented Effie. With her powerhouse voice, she nails some of the show’s biggest hits, especially “(And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going,” which she delivers so soulfully as to send chills through the audience.
Aside from the Dreams, which includes cute-and-content (except for her romantic life) Lorrell, endearingly portrayed by Dorian McCorey, the audience finds great joy in Christian Thompson’s funny, hard-drinking, charming, and somewhat smarmy portrayal of Jimmy, a singer who has been reinvented countless times and who serves as comic relief as well as a serious commentary on the difficulty of finding a “voice” and “niche” as an African American performer in that time.
The story of the girls’ journey (and all the people they meet along the way) unfolds with lovely and progressively-flashier costumes by Denise Schumaker, which only serve to up the ante in terms of making this musical feel larger than life. And, by the end of their story, one realizes how beautifully written this play is; there are no villains or stock characters here- only real people immersed in fame and a different time- though one that isn’t quite so different as to be un-relatable to modern viewers.
The show is fun, fantastic, and evokes a little bit of that community theatre charm..without falling victim to the usual pitfalls of community theatre. It is definitely worth a watch for anyone who wants to see a smash hit musical done “homestyle.”
Theatre Raleigh presents DREAMGIRLS at 8 p.m. July 10, 2 and 8 p.m. July 11, 3 p.m. July 13, 8 p.m. July 15-17, 2 and 8 p.m. July 18, 3 p.m. July 19, 8 p.m. July 22-24, 2 and 8 p.m. July 25, and 3 p.m. July 26 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $27 ($25 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 866-811-4111, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/939885.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or email@example.com.
SHOW: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/2015-season/ and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/dreamgirls-5574.
PRESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Theatre-Raleigh/349124511834045, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
NOTE: Theatre Raleigh rates this show PG-13 (due to mild language and adult content).
Dreamgirls (1981 Broadway musical): http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=3192 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamgirls (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: https://grandtheatre.com/atk/uploads/Education/Dreamgirls_Study_Guide.pdf (The Grand Theatre of London, Ontario).
Henry Krieger (music): http://www.henrykrieger.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=12011 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Krieger (Wikipedia).
Tom Eyen (book and lyrics): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8902 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Eyen (Wikipedia).
Dreamgirls (2006 film): http://www.dreamworks.com/dreamgirls/main.html (official website), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/641880/Dreamgirls/ (Turner Classic Movies page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443489/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamgirls_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).
Lauren Kennedy (director and artistic director of Theatre Raleigh): http://www.laurenkennedy.com/ (official website), http://laurenkennedynews.blogspot.com/ (her blog), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=70340 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/slaurenkennedy (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/slaurenkennedy (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Kennedy (Wikipedia).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.