Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Dreamgirls - Goodspeed Opera House

Show business is a business, according to Curtis Taylor, Jr., the hard-driving, controlling manager of The Dreams.  It is tough, full of shattered hopes and desires and broken promises.  This is the overriding theme in the Goodspeed Opera House’s absorbing, sometimes dazzling production of Dreamgirls.  The musical, which takes its inspiration from the girl groups of the 1960’s, primarily The Supremes, is slow to find its footing.  It’s not until most of Act I has passed that the show begins to find its dramatic and emotional core.  The musical solidifies its dynamic groove as Act I comes to a close and the actress Trejah Bostic, who plays Effie, takes the stage to belt out the soulful, angst-filled signature number, “An I’m Telling You.”

Keirsten Hodgens, Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Shantel Cribbs in Goodspeed's Dreamgirls. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

The show starts as the three teenage Dreamettes - Deena Jones (Ta-Tynisa Wilson), Lorrell Robinson (Kiersten Hodgens) and Effie White (Trejah Bostic), along with Effie’s songwriting brother C.C. (Jos N. Banks) – enter New York City’s famed Apollo Theater talent show.  Even though they lose, they meet a number of men who will be influential in their rise to stardom – Marty (Robert Cornelius), Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Evan Tyrone Martin) and Jimmy Early (Mykal Kilgore).  Fame, though, has its price and as the renamed group, The Dreams, rise to stardom each member’s drive and sacrifice cost plenty.  Effie, friends with the other founding members of the group, is unceremoniously dumped for a prettier young woman.  Her story arc in Act II runs parallel to The Dreams’, but is more gritty and difficult.  In the end, there are heartaches and breakups, but the four women survive, stronger and in control of their own destiny.


The book by Tom Eyen covers a lot of ground, from the birth of The Dreams through their rise to stardom and eventual break-up.  Act I is slightly disjointed as portrayals are developed and situations established.  By Act II Eyen is able to breathe more life into the characters, giving them depth and nuance, creating well-rounded characters that the audience cares about and responds to.


Mykal Kilgore with Ta-Tynisa Wilson, Trejah Bostic and Keirsten Hodgens in Goodspeed's Dreamgirls. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

He also weaves in a number of issues that were becoming current to the music business during this time frame.  Rhythm and Blues began crossing over to the pop charts and becoming more accepted by white audiences.  Black artists began taking more control of their careers, both in the limelight and behind the scenes.  Throughout Dreamgirls, the men are dominant and call the shots.  By the end, the tables have turned as the individual women blaze their own pathways, on their own terms. 


The lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger aptly reflect the time and style of the show’s 60’s – 70’s vibe.  The score is full of memorable songs that cross a number of genres from pop to soul.  There is the high-energy “One Night Only” and “Dreamgirls,” the soulful “Steppin’ to the Bad Side,” the poignant “Hard to Say Goodbye, (My Love),” and the heartbreaking “Family.”


Trejah Bostic, Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Keirsten Hodgens with the cast of Goodspeed's Dreamgirls. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Director Lili-Anne Brown smoothly and efficiently guides the show, with its numerous scene and costume changes, with skillful aplomb.  She utilizes Arnel Sancianco’s Scenic Design, an arced prosemium stage, arrayed with lightbulbs, to simulate a feel for the characters being constantly in the spotlight. At the back of the performance space he has included large speaker-like pieces that incorporate just one aspect of Jason Lynch and Adam Honore’s vibrant Lighting Design.  The Director smoothly incorporates Choreographer Breon Arzell’s sleek, synchopated dance steps for The Dreams and the character of Jimmy Early.  Ms. Brown sucessfully overcomes the somewhat sluggish start of the show to conclude with a production full of depth and pathos.


All around, the cast was marvelous.  Ta-Tynisa Wilson is outstanding as Deena Jones, thrust into the limelight just at The Dreams make it big.  The actress gives a multi-layered performance as she transforms from naïve teenager to a sophisticated, world-weary glamour star.  Trejah Bostic’s Effie White is the heart and soul of the musical.  She plays the role beautifully, creating the most well-developed portrayal in the show.  By the show’s end, her character is the one most at peace with her choices.  Kiersten Hodgens, as back-up singer Lorrell Robinson, holds her own with her more exuberant castmates.  Shantel Cribbs is elegant and adept as Effie’s replacement Michelle Morris.


Keirsten Hodgens, Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Shantel Cribbs in Goodspeed's Dreamgirls. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Evan Tyrone Martin (Curtis Taylor, Jr.) has the most significant male role of the show.  His character is divisive as he winningly shifts from seat-of-your-pants hustler to a forceful, svengali presence.  While the actor delivers a superb performance, it could have been more nuanced.  Mykal Kilgore (Jimmy Early) gives a slick, high-powered portrayal that convincingly shifts from self-absorbed artist to one that shows more humility.  Robert Cornelius (Marty), Early’s one-time manager, brings a showbiz weariness to his role.  Jos N. Banks is sound in the underwritten role of C.C. White.


Costume Designer Samantha C. Jones has crafted a kingsize closet full of flashy, eye-popping costumes, primarily for the women of The Dreams.  There are so many costume changes throughout the show, I lost count.  The designs for the men are more subdued but, especially with the character of Curtis Taylor, Jr., parallel his growth with sleekier, more contemporary outfits.  Mention also needs to go to Earon Chew Nealey for the numerous stylish hair pieces she has crafted.  The coiff for Deena Jones during a photo shoot was especially impressive.


Dreamgirls, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through December 30.  Click here dates, times, and ticket information.

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