Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dreamgirls—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

Impossible Dreams?

The dramatic musical is written by Tom Eyen and composed by Henry Krieger and directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director).  Musical direction is by Rick Lewis and choreography by Kent Zimmerman.  It is playing at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through November 2nd.  For more information go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

This is from a Tony award-winning play, which was made into quite an excellent movie.  What performer hasn’t thought of making it to the top of their profession, with all the fame and fortune, glitter and glamour that seems to go along with it.  It is a dream, devoutly to be desired.  Or is it?  For all the glitz, there is the gutter, always evident in case you slip.  For all the gain, there is the pain.  It’s rarely ever easy and in the end, sacrifices must be made, which could include your friends, family, self-esteem, health and even, your soul.  So, you must ask yourself the hard question, is it worth it?!

In the case of the Dreamettes, Deena (Mary Patton), Lorrell (Lexi Rhoades) and Effie (Nattalyee Randall), they will take that journey down the “yellow-brick road” to find that great and powerful dream come true, or is it just a silly, old man behind a curtain.  And, perhaps, one should not forget the true treasures offered at the end of that rainbow:  Brains, Heart, Courage and no place like, Home.  But to discover their importance, it is necessary to journey beyond and behind the rainbow, as the Dreamgirls do.

These three, with their ever-faithful, but naïve companion, C. C. (Calvin Scott Roberts), Effie’s brother, a talented songwriter, ease on down that road from humble beginnings.  There lowly desire is to win a contest at the famed Apollo Theatre and be booked for a week there.  The end result is they get 10 weeks on the road as back-up singers with the huge star, Jimmy Early (David Jennings).  The emerald gates open a crack for them.

They are welcomed with open arms by Jimmy and his sensible manager, Marty (Tyrone Roberson).  But into the fray struts the wicked, Curtis (Rodney Hicks).  His smooth talk and oily ways convince the ladies that he can make them stars.  All they have to do is submit to his control of their lives.  In the beginning it is all the Garden of Eden but, with a snake loose, it will not last long.  Affairs, heartbreak, the replacement of one of the members by Michelle (Antoinette Comer) and betrayal eventually lead this trio of triumph into a spiral of sadness.  The end result will be for you to discover.

The musical road they journey down goes through R&B, Pop, Soul and Disco.  And some of the dialogue is sung, much like in an opera.  My favorite numbers were Cadillac Car, Steppin’ to the Bad Side, Dreamgirls and all of Effie’s solos, One Night Only, I Am Changing, and the show-stopping, I’m Not Going.  The staging is simple (designer, G. W. Mercier) and the lighting of the glowing orb (designer, Robert M. Wierzel) to create mood and changes in time and setting was particularly effective.

The music (Lewis) was intense, without overpowering the actors and the dance numbers (Zimmerman) were simply but effectively done.  And the costumes (designer, Sydney Roberts) were especially exciting, reflecting the change in color and styles through the years.  Coleman was smart in letting the actors and songs carry the story without a lot of elaborate sets.  Well done.  And the PR Manager, Claudie Jean Fisher, has a nicely written piece in the program, as to the real-life inspiration for the show, The Supremes.

The performers are all exceptional as singers and actors.  Hicks, as their manager, gives us no excuses as a man out only for himself.  A shark that has learned to survive in turbulent waters.  Well done.  And on the other end of the coin is C. C., perhaps the only real hero of the piece.  Your heart goes out to him, thanks to Roberts’s performance.  And Jennings, as a star starting to fall from grace, is insightful as showing us the mess after the party’s over.  Good job.

Both Patton and Rhoades are super as two of the members of the trio, wanting to branch out to better things but feeling they might have to leave their hearts behind.  Powerful ladies.  And Comer, as the addition to the group, is wonderfully effective.  She could have comes across as just an interfering bitch but she does a nice job of layering her performance so that you feel for her.  I expect good things from her in the future.

And one must give a lion’s share of the praise to Randall in the key role as Effie.  She is extraordinary!  Her singing in all her numbers was a standout and she’s a pretty damn good actress, too.  And she also does a nice job of layering her performance, so that one does feel sympathy for her but sees her tough side as well.  She deserved the roar of applause after her show-stopping number, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.  She is the heart of this well-conceived production!
I recommend this show, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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