Deena Jones, Effie White, Lorrell Robinson, and Michelle Morris are singing up a storm and DOMA has got’em.

A news flash like this can only mean one thing. Dreamgirls is in town, with DOMA Theatre Company once again proving that you don’t need a gazillion dollars and a 1500-seat house to make musical theater magic in L.A.

dreamgirls_5 Not that there’s anything shoddy about DOMA’s 99-seat production, Michael Mullen’s gazillion dazzling costumes alone making it clear that no expense has been spared to make this Dreamgirls look sensational.

Still, it’s the talent onstage that can make or break a show, and in both leading and featured players as well as the production’s live band, this is one Dreamgirls worth singing about, providing it’s Henry Krieger/Tom Eyer smashes like “One Night Only,” “I Am Changing,” “One Night Only,” the title song, and of course the show-stoppingest of them all, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”

dreamgirls_1 There’s probably no need to fill anyone in on Dreamgirls’ plot (African-American Girl Group Become Pop Stars And Lead Singer Becomes Even Bigger Pop Star), its songs, or its phenomenal success (over 1500 performances on Broadway, tons of awards, and a hit movie adaptation which finally made it to the screen fully twenty-five years after its Broadway debut).

Surprisingly, despite its marquee value and aside from the 2010 National Tour, I can’t recall a single L.A. production of Dreamgirls in at least the last ten years, giving this intimate yet glittery revival the status of a major event, lovingly directed and expertly musical-staged by Marco Gomez.

dreamgirls_10 Stepping into some very big shoes and filling them quite stunningly indeed are a pair of Scenie winners—Jennifer Colby Talton as Deena (the role originated on stage by Sheryl Lee Ralph and on screen by Beyoncé Knowles) and Constance Jewel Lopez as Effie (originated by a pair of Jennifers—Holliday and Hudson), and if you think any big-stage production could find a better Deena or Effie, think again. Talton’s Deena is not only beauty and elegance personified, she sings and acts up a storm, while Lopez’s Effie rocks the house with her every note, emotes the hell out of the role, and makes “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” her very own dramatic/vocal tour de force. Add to this duo Tyra Dennis’s fierce and fabulous Lorrell and Tiffany Williams’ fine and feisty Michelle and you’ve got four of the dreamiest Dreams ever.

dreamgirls_9 The men are pretty darn terrific as well, from Welton Thomas Pitchford’s silky-smooth, ice-cold Curtis to Keith Arthur Bolden’s wildly theatrical James “Thunder” Early, to charismatic young newcomer Frank Andrus Jr. as C.C., with Lorenzo T. Hughes providing excellent support as Marty.

An all-around topnotch ensemble features Robert Gee as MC, Lina Green as Charlene, Mookie Johnson as Tiny Joe Dixon and Security Guard, Paul Lange as Dave and Stage Manager, Parnell Damone Marcano as Wayne, Theodore Mark Martinez as Jerry, Nik Roybal as Frank and Camera Man, Tandrea Nicole Tarver as Joanne, and Jeremy Whatley as Mr. Morgan.

dreamgirls_7 Then there are the pop groups of the era, brought to life by performers who’ve clearly done their ‘60s/‘70s Top 40 homework: Stepp Sisters Regan Carrington, Leslie Marrero, and Desiree Parkman; Les Styles Carrington, Green, Parkman, and Tarver; Tru-Tones Stephen Anglin, Ra’Shawn Durell, Alan Fleury, and James Oronoz; 5 Tuxedos Anglin, Ty Brittingham, Durell, Oronoz, and Whatley; and The Sweethearts Michelle Holmes, Melissa Owens, and Marni Stone.

‘60s/‘70s pop means the kind of choreography exemplified by Motown’s The Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Supremes (whose career—and lead singer—would seem to have provided a certain “inspiration” for Dreamgirls) and Philly Soul groups like The Three Degrees, The Ojays, and The Spinners, and Dreamgirls choreographer Rae Toledo has clearly done her homework, the cast executing her dance steps with plenty of Motown/Philly flair. Add to that several flashy production numbers and you’ve got, if not the danciest show in town, at least one that puts its cast’s footwork to the test and comes out a winner.

dreamgirls_2 Then there’s musical wunderkind Chris Raymond (last year’s Scenie-winning Musical Director Of The Year for Jekyll & Hyde, The Playground, The Who’s Tommy, and more recently Xanadu and Avenue Q) once again proving himself one of L.A.’s most gifted young talents, not only in the vocal performances he elicits from his cast, but as conductor-keyboardist for Dreamgirl’s sensational onstage band—James Blackwell on trumpet, Martin Diller on drums, Tom Luer on reeds, Ermuel Navarro on trombone, and Antonio Rodrigo on bass.

While Dreamgirls’ design star is clearly Mullen and his dozens upon dozens of glittery, glamorous gowns, lighting designer Johnny Ryman scores high marks for making them look even more glittery and glamorous. Wig/hair designer Aja Morris-Smiley gives the cast almost as many dos as Mullen does costumes, and most are winners, with the exception of Denna’s bouffant-est wig (which needs styling) and Owens’ humungous mop (which needs downsizing). Amanda Lawson’s set is the production’s most basic design element—upstairs-downstairs silvery curtains to provide a backdrop for dramatic and musical action, but it’s enough, and places the focus where it ought to be, on performers and gowns. Sound designer David Crawford takes advantage of the Met Theatre’s sound system upgrade to provide the best sound amplification and mix to date in a DOMA production.

Behind the scenes credit goes to production manager Danielle DeMasters, producers Mike Abramson and Dolf Ramos, executive producer Gomez, technical director Timothy Miller, stage manager Christopher Basile, and many others credited in the Dreamgirls program.

With Sweet Charity, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson coming up in the months ahead, DOMA Theatre Company’s 2013 season could well be its best to date. If Dreamgirls is any indication of what to expect from now till December, Los Angeles musical theater audiences are in for a dream of a year.

DOMA Theatre Co. @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
March 9, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont

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