Sunday, June 12, 2011
Cain Park’s DREAMGIRLS, audience pleasing, but needs emotional texturing
DREAMGIRLS has a dynamic musical score and story. These elements turn out to be both the boon and problem with Cain Park’s production of the script.
The DREAMGIRL story centers on a trio of female R & B (rhythm and blues) singers who strive for stardom. Think The Supremes. In fact, some believe that the plot is a disguised version of the story of Diana Ross, her emergence from being the backup singer in the original group, and her rise to fame. There is also enough similarity to the stories of James Brown and Jackie Wilson to lead to the conclusion that several of the male characters are based on these men.
We follow "The Dreams" as they rise from amateur talent show losers to becoming backup singers and then superstars, and those who played roles in their lives.
The musical opened on Broadway in 1981 and was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards. It was directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett and was mainly responsible for making Jennifer Holliday a major star.
A 2006 film adaptation starred Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover and former AMERICAN IDOL contestant Jennifer Hudson. Hudson won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the movie.
Henry Krieger’s music is hard-driving and compelling. Tom Euyen’s story is full of conflicts that help the storyline move along. To make the complexities work, the actors must not only get across the intense meaning, but understand the need to texture the spoken and sung lines. Unfortunately, Director Victoria Bussert has allowed her actors to start screaming from the outset, which leaves them no place to go to develop the needed emotional variances as the story develops.
After a while the screaming got so intense that an audience member sitting next to me mumbled, “Stop all the yelling.” He was right on. Actors need to realize that once you’ve screamed there is no place to up-the-ante when the intensity is really needed. Because of all the bellowing, many of the lines were lost in explosions of air.
Adrianna Cleveland as Effie, the member of the group who is dropped because of her domineering personality and hefty size, wails. This lady has one impressive voice. Her (And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going was the show’s emotional and musical highpoint. It would have been even more impressive if the first act lines and music leading up to it had been more subtle, as the entire act leads up to that song. I Am Changing, under-sung with strong emotion, was beautiful and showed what happens when underplaying rather than excessive power is used. Cleveland could have made the character more dimensional by texturing the verbal expression of her spoken speeches.
The beautiful Ciara Renée has a very pleasant singing voice and developed a clear characterization as Deena, who is thrust into the lead singing role against her desires.
Kyle Primous as Jimmy, an emerging superstar, got lots of laughs and strong positive reactions for his superb dancing. At times he went overboard and lost the character because of too much affect. His Baby, Baby was a show stopper.
Antwaun Holley as C. C. White, displayed excellent dynamics and was consistent throughout.
Rod Lawrence was disappointing as the wheeling-dealing Curtis. He spoke and yelled words rather than meanings and never quite made the character real. The usually proficient Darryl Lewis screamed his way through the role of Marty, as did David Robbins in various parts.
Song and production highlights included Fake Your Way to the Top, Steppin’ to the Bad Side, and the reprise of Dreamgirls.
Gregory Daniels’ choreography was creative. Unfortunately, at times it was too ambitious for the cast, causing mistiming on group movements.
Russ Borski’s costume designs were fabulous. The amount of fabric used on this show was unbelievable.
Rob Kovacs’s musicians were excellent, though the volume and dynamics needed variance. The sound needed to be big, but, in the small venue, had to be tempered. Loud is not always better!
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: DREAMGIRLS is quite good on many levels and will please many. However, it could have been so much better if restraint, texturing of moods, and less pounding and screaming of musical and spoken sounds had been achieved.