Spectacular design, inspired direction and choreography, and above all one electrifying star turn—elements that together made the 2010 National Tour of the legendary Dreamgirls one for the ages—have been reassembled at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts to make for the big-stage, big-budget Dreamgirls revival its fans have been waiting for.
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 (“One Night Only,” “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” and the title song, to name just three), 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).
Still, unless you caught the Robert Longbottom-directed-&-choreographed National Tour at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts a half-dozen years ago, you’ve never seen a Dreamgirls like this one.
It’s hard to say where its scenic design (by the original Broadway production’s Robin Wagner, no less) ends and its media design (by Howard Werner) begins, or how Ken Billington’s lighting fits into the overall design picture, but whoever did what, the result is an animated light show sure to astound theatergoers who think they’ve seen everything.
How these designers got those five proscenium-high see-through panels to light up as one dazzling color spectacle after another is a mystery to me, but the resulting set/lighting design takes audiences from the Apollo Theater to Las Vegas to network TV studios to Hollywood to Paris and back again in animated splendor.
In the production’s most breathtaking sequence, animated dancers slowly morph into the real thing, leading to a Busby Berklee-style musical number (one of those where the camera is poised above dancers moving in kaleidoscopic patterns) which combines real-life chorus boys and their animated counterparts dancing in unison. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it.
Then there are William Ivey Long’s costumes, which look like the million-plus dollars they probably cost, a number of which have been designed for lightning quick costume changes. Think Cher in her Bob Mackey glamour days multiplied by a hundred. No, make that a thousand—and you’ve got some idea of just how gorgeous Dreamgirls’ costumes are.
The original Broadway production of Dreamgirls was of course directed and choreographed by the legendary Michael Bennett. Here Broadway’s Tony-nominated Longbottom gives the show his own visual flair, creates exciting, showy dance numbers, and insures some of the finest acting ever in a musical most noted for its song sequences.
A production is only as great as its performers, and here too Dreamgirls scores big. The Dreams (Jasmin Richardson as Deena Jones, Brittney Johnson as Lorrell Robinson, and Danielle Truitt as Michelle Morris) are ravishing singer/actresses each one, and the men in their lives (Scott A. People as Curtis Taylor, Jr., David LaMarr as James “Thunder” Early, John Devereaux as C.C. White, and Lorenzo T. Hughes as Marty Madison) match the ladies every sensational step of the way.
Above all there’s Best Featured Performance Scenie winner Moya Angela, stepping into some very big shoes indeed as Dreamgirls star-victim-survivor Effie White. Jennifer Holliday won the Tony and Jennifer Hudson the Oscar for playing Effie, but trust me, unless you caught Angela at the Segerstrom six years ago, you have never seen or heard anyone sing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” like she does, a “method” performance so deeply felt and so gut-wrenchingly real that other renditions may seem mere vocal pyrotechnics by comparison.
Jennifer Akabue (Stepp Sister), Miah Blake (Stepp Sister, Sweetheart, Les Style), Dedrick Bonner (M.C., Tuxedo), Remmie Bourgeois (Tru-Tone, Disco Man, Photographer), Brandon Burks (Tru-Tone, Wayne, Tuxedo Disco Man, Photographer), Fatima El-Bashir (Stepp Sister, Sweetheart, Les Style), Chavis Humphrey (Frank, Tru-Tone, Tuxedo, Disco Man), Fay James (Charlene, Les Style), Elyse LaFontaine (Stepp Sister), Andre Darnell Myers (Little Albert, Dave, Tuxedo, Disco Man, Photographer, Stage Manager), Eran Scoggins (Tru-Tone, Tuxedo), Loreigna Sinclair (Joann, Les Style), Trance Thompson (Tiny Joe Dixon, Jerry), and Davon Williams (Mr. Morgan, Dwight, Tuxedo) sing dazzlingly and show off dancing feet to perfection as they assume more guises and wigs than I could possibly count.
Conductor/keyboardist/associate musical director Brent Crayon leads a ten-piece pit orchestra that provides bang-up backup for the show’s thrilling vocal performances under Dennis Castellano’s accomplished musical direction.
Sound designer Julie Ferrin provides her accustomed expert mix, with Terry Hanrahan’s properties and Joy Marcelle Langley’s hair, wig, and makeup completing a Grade-A+ production design. Shane Sparks is co-choreographer.
Dreamgirls is presented by La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, McCoy Rigby Entertainment, and Key Brand Entertainment with John Breglio. Casting is by Julia Flores (Los Angeles) and Alison Franck (New York).
Amma Osei is Effie alternate and Darian Archie and assistant choreographer/dance captain Ashley McManus are swings.
William Alan Coats is production stage manager and Amy Ramsdell is assistant stage manager. Buck Mason is general manager, Patti McCoy Jacob is production manager, and David Cruise is technical director.
Dreamgirls became the stuff of legend in its original Michael Bennett-directed-&-choreographed 1981 Broadway debut. Check out the truly stupendous 35-anniversary revival now playing at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts and you’ll see why.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
March 26, 2016
Photos: Michael Lamont