Monday, October 29, 2018

Dreamgirls—Stumptown Stages—Downtown Portland


     Impossible Dreams?

    This dramatic musical has book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, music by Henry Krieger and directed and choreographed by Roger Welch, and musical direction by Adam Young.  It is playing at their space at The Brunish Theatre (4th floor), 1111 SW Broadway, through November 4th.  For more information go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

    This is from a Tony award-winning play, which was made into quite an excellent movie.  What performer(s) 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 with it.  It is a dream, devoutly to be desired.  Or is it just so much smoke and mirrors…an illusion for hungry artists?   Trappings all.  For all the glitz, there is the gutter, for all the peaks, there are the pits, always evident for those who slip.  And 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 Dreams, Deena (Shahayla Ononalye), Lorrell (Kristin Robinson) and Effie (Julianne Johnson), they will take that journey down the “yellow-brick road” to find their great and powerful dream coming true, or is it just a silly, old man behind a curtain.  Time will tell.  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 composer, C. C. (Blake Stone), Effie’s brother, “ease on down” that road from humble beginnings to lofty expectations (and back again).  Their 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 is 10 weeks on the road as back-up singers with the huge star, Jimmy Early (Jarvis Sam).  The golden gates open a crack for them.

     They are welcomed with open arms by Jimmy and his sensible manager, Marty (Amber Cobb).  But into the fray struts the wicked, Curtis (John Devereaux).  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, both personal and financial, it turns out  In the beginning it is all an innocent Garden of Poppies but, with a snake loose, it will not last long.  Affairs, heartbreak, the replacement of one of the members by Michelle (Jalena Montrond) and betrayal, eventually leads this trio’s 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…from easy listening tunes to hard dancing ones.  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 music (Young) was intense, without overpowering the actors.  And the costumes (designer, Margaret Louise Chapman) were especially exciting, reflecting the changes in color and styles through the years.  Welch was smart in letting the actors and songs carry the story without a lot of elaborate sets, and the dance numbers were reflective of the times.  Well done.

    The performers are all excellent as singers and actors.  But two that stood out for me were Sam as Jimmy, who was a dancer (acrobat?) beyond all expectations and a terrific singer and actor, as well.  A too true character in the fight for the brass ring, never realizing you have to hold onto to it forever, or risk being outshone.  A bravo performance! 

    And one must give a lion’s share of the praise to Johnson in the key role as Effie.  She is extraordinary!  An icon herself as a performer and director, and she shows you why, here.  Her singing in all her numbers was a standout and she’s a pretty damn good actor, 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 the crowd after her show-stopping numbers.  She is the heart of this well-conceived production…long may she pulsate!

 I recommend this show, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

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