*One of the most loved musicals in the history of live theater is “Dreamgirls.” The story of a girl group fashioned in the mold of iconic R&B groups like, The Supremes,” (before and after Diana Ross became the centerpiece in and of the group); and solo acts the likes of the legendary ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown and Jackie Wilson. The musical has now made its way to the beautiful Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) in Northridge, California, to a packed opening night house.
Dreamgirls, which will only be at VPAC through Sunday, May 8, has had its run of productions all around the globe since its Broadway debut in 1983. The VPAC production boasts talents from an energetic cast, an exceptional crew and some impeccable staging.
So much so, that there are times when all the seamless moving parts and exceptional use of imagery will make you forget that you are sitting in a theater watching a live production, and not in one watching a film. Such is the effortless flow here, enhanced by the ease with which the scenery and lighting intersperse and change.
Musically, the production pretty much follows the film version; and we get to hear recreations of the musicals’ highly-anticipated songs such as “Listen,” “When I First Saw You,” “One Night Only,” and of course, the biggest song in the production, “And I Am Telling You, I’m Not Going).”
But you will notice major differences in the actual musical versus the film. And with that said, your mind may drift to the over-the-top astounding performance by Jamie Foxx as “Curtis Taylor, Jr.” when he sang “When I First Saw You” to Beyonce’s “Deena Jones” in the film version of Dreamgirls, as you listen to the interpretation of the song by Scott A. People, which quite honestly, pales greatly in comparison, and even as a stand alone is lackluster.
But as performances go, People’s “Curtis Taylor, Jr.,” the Berry Gordy-like character who takes the girls on and names them “The Dreams,” — is sufficiently compelling.
Outstanding performance nods go to Jonathan Michael as the flamboyant “James ‘Thunder’ Early.” His characterization (played in the film by Eddie Murphy) perfectly suited the outlandish and later, humbling aspects of the endearing star. Brittany Johnson as the good-natured background singer “Lorrell Robinson” ((played in the film by Anika Noni Rose)– who falls in love with James Early, but later, grows some and though she admits she still loves him and hits him with the line, “I got a show to do baby, remember?” — is a real cutie in the role. And Moya Angela (pictured below) as “Effie.” Angela was in the original Broadway Touring production in 2009, and also did the show in Los Angeles at The Pantages in 2010.
Angela’s “Effie” (played in the film by Jennifer Hudson) superbly hosts all the qualities of joy, pain, sorrow and finally, come-uppence, that audiences have come to expect from any actress playing this role, yet may rarely get.
And yes. Her version of “the song” is spot on!
This production is fun through and through; with artful performances by the ensemble of dancers (who really add a lot to the threading of the entire patchwork of the production).
And I can’t say enough about the incredible crew starting with the phenomenal direction and choreography of Robert Longbottom. Longbottom, who co-choreographed with Shane Sparks, began his association with Dreamgirls when the show toured nationally in 2009. He expertly fills every second of the play with something meaningful. William Ivey Long‘s costume designs are exquisite — with the perfect blend of magnificent colors, true-to-the-spirit tones and awesome glitter. This blend is not as easy to pull off as one might expect. And Long sets the style tone for each scene nicely with his costumes.
Ken Billington‘s lighting design is spectacular! And truly epitomizes the overlying mood of the production — glamour!
Robin Wagner‘s scenic design is another exquisite piece of this production. And it is his work that will make you think you are watching a film. His vision and the images it produces, when you least expect to see them, are wonderful surprises throughout. Get a glimpse of what I mean in this Youtube webisode.
Dreamgirls, with music by Henry Krieger and musical direction by Dennis Castellano runs through May 8 at Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, California. For tickets to the show, directions and parking info, go here.