In part 1 of the EURweb exclusive interview with dynamic performer Moya Angela, who just knocked the part of character “Effie White” out of the park with a stunning performance, in the Valley Performing Arts Center production of “Dreamgirls, the performer spoke of her growth in the role; and described that growth as “Act I Effie” and “Act II Effie.”
The production ended on May 8, as part of a special 4-performance-only contract, but audiences are probably still talking about it.
When EURweb senior editor and resident theater critic, DeBorah B. Pryor, spoke with Angela during a telephone interview, she asked her about her approach to the role and character that audiences worldwide have come to have great expectations for. She especially wanted to know how she prepared for what Pryor referenced as “the song” — the one that has become the signature of the production.
MA: When I first played the role I had my heart broken. I was young…and still making really ridiculous decisions in relationships and I was just always angry and now, I’m just like, I’ve experienced more. I’ve been through a lot more. I’m more patient with myself and people and with my artistry in general. And I’m more confident.
And the song?
I even sing it differently now. Before, it was harder for me to sing because I was just trying to be superwoman and get everything perfect. But now its like, I realize I don’t have to sing everything ‘triple forte’ and I can color the notes differently because of what I’ve been through and make better choices because I’m older.
You can’t act Effie, you have to play Effie. And I learned that too. Like, you have actors who are acting onstage, and then you have actors who are actually the characters onstage…It’s not the kind of character you can just act. I can’t go through the motions and make you guys think that I’m going there. I have to ‘go there’ or else it doesn’t work.
And now, in part 2 of the interview, Angela continues the conversation and even shares what went down when she finally got to meet the “original Effie”…Jennifer Hudson!
MA: “I’m very much a method actress. I go all the way there.”
DBP: Where have you studied as an actor?
MA: “I would say half school, half life,” she laughs. I went to Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky. I was a music education vocal major – classical music. And my minor was acting. And so I did a lot of things in college and then I would go home every summer and I would perform with an organization called Footlite Musicals, just community theater basically, just to build my resume.”
Angela says she auditioned for “The Lion King” before graduating from college.
MA: “And maybe four or five months after my audition, I was on tour with ‘The Lion King.’
Angela, who did the national tour for Dreamgirls in 2009, and met the shows’ current director, Robert Longbottom, while performing the show at Harlem’s Apollo Theater then, says she was like a ‘sponge’ watching and listening to her elder actor colleagues while touring the show.
MA: “This particular production is a special production. There’s other Dreamgirls’ productions that people do all over the country, but…all of the original people who did it on Broadway helped with this production — like Henry Krieger (composer), Robin Wagner (scenic design), Ken Billington (lighting design).
Robert (Longbottom) is very intuitive with this show. And he’s worked with the originals, who were part of it back in the day and he knows this story in every way. So this will be my second time working with him…I enjoy working with him as a director because he gives you a little freedom as an artist, to find your way. There is directors who are like ‘stand here. Put your arm this way. Put your leg this way.’ He is not that kind of director. We come up with the back-story, he allows you to fill in the blanks. –Moya Angela
Also this process was a little more lenient because I’ve done the show with him before. He taught me Effie, so he didn’t have to really teach me anything, he just had to remind me of what he had taught me.”
DBP: Of all the actresses that have played the role, do you have a favorite ‘Effie’?
I’m sorry, I am still completely obsessed with Jennifer Holliday. And there was never anyone who could ever even come close to her. I am obsessed with her interpretation (laughs) and I have blinders on. –Moya Angela
DBP: Have you had the pleasure of meeting with her?
MA: I did. When we did it in 2010 in L.A. All the original Dreams…her, Loretta Devine and Sheryl Lee Ralph came to see the show. I don’t remember if it was the very next day or a few days later that she called…and told them she wanted to meet me personally (you can still hear the emotion in Angela’s voice as she recalls this!). Yeah. We sat down and had some chicken (she emphasizes with a laugh) and I got to ask her anything I wanted. Got to get her real sense of how I did honestly, because that makes a big difference.
DBP: I wish I had been a ‘fly on the wall’ at that meeting. If you don’t mind revisiting, and I get the impression you don’t, let me be that fly on the wall now.
MA: (laughs). Well to be honest with you, I was really taken back because like, first of all, I get to sit down with Jennifer Holliday! That’s like ‘What? OK?’ To me that’s like the president. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was very star-struck until I got in the moment.
MA: But then I kind of felt like there was a torch being passed. She really appreciated how I came up with my own ‘Effie’ – without it being so out-of-the-box that it didn’t even go down the same lane as the character. And she complimented me on my voice, and a couple of moments that she thoroughly enjoyed.
Angela says after all of the stuff , you know, all of the ‘elephant in the room stuff’ got out of the way, it just felt like she was sitting down with a mentor. And she described Holliday as “a sweet lady.”
Didn’t get to see the show this time? Read DeBorah B. Pryor’s REVIEW of the Valley Performing Arts Center production of Dreamgirls, which ended on Sunday, May 8.
About the author:
DeBorah B. Pryor is a Los Angeles-based writer with a B.A. in Drama Education from San Francisco State University. A former actor, Pryor worked mainly in theater for nearly two decades, primarily in Northern California, where she was a member of the 4A performing arts unions: Actor’s Equity, SAG and AFTRA.