By Deirdre Parker Smith
The audience at the patron’s night performance gave a standing ovation to “Dreamgirls” and wolf whistles and cheers to its star, Alexis Greer.
Piedmont Players’ production of the musical has plenty of glitz, some good singers and a strong orchestra.
A little too strong in the opening scenes, drowning out the Dreamettes in a conversation they’re having with their future manager.
The sequence of vignettes at the opening is clever — different acts performing at a talent contest at the Apollo Theatre while we see the backstage events. Surely the ensemble will strike a balance so that the story comes to the forefront and the talent show fades a bit into the background.
In a way, “Dreamgirls” is just like every story of people striving to be stars. What makes it different is that these are African-American acts at a time when many of them weren’t even allowed to perform in some venues or stay in decent hotels.
Just as talented as the white folks breaking into the record charts, they had to fight harder to get the recognition they deserved.
Along come Effie (Greer) and sisters Deena (Naquia Dalton) and Loretta (Charnae Brown), the Dreamettes, and Effie’s brother, C.C. (Edwin Rush), who writes their songs.
An opportunistic young man, Curtis (Marvin King) declares himself their manager and they are suddenly backing wild J.T. “Jimmy” Early (Tyler Smith).
This core group of performers work well together, sing well together and carry the show. No one can sing like Alexis Greer, so it all seems insane when manager Curtis promotes Deena to the head of the Dreams because she’s prettier and smaller than Effie.
Broken hearted, Effie causes enough trouble to get herself fired and neither the girls nor Curtis, who Effie has fallen for, do a thing to ease the blow.
Jimmy is a combination of James Brown, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. He wants to sing his music, no matter what people tell him is popular. He’s got soul, and he’s got Loretta wrapped around his shoulders.
Marty (Malcolm Plummer), Jimmy’s agent, dumps him and Curtis has himself a handful of performers. He splits the girls from Jimmy and renames them the Dreams, with the thinner, prettier Michelle (Gloria Stocks) joining in.
Here’s where Effie sings her signature song, “(And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going,” wowing the audience.
The men, Curtis, C.C., Marty and more have a darkly rocking number in “Steppin’ to the Bad Side,” showcasing their talents. They’ve just decided to start paying DJs to put their stars on the radio.
Effie has her struggles, as does Jimmy. Loretta demands he marry her after seven years together, but he just keeps putting her off — he is already married.
Deena marries Curtis, but he’s controlling her life to the point she feels trapped.
Marty comes back to bring Effie back on stage, and C.C. takes his new song to her, disliking what Curtis has done to it for the Dreams.
And so, vindication comes. Some endings are not happy, but there’s a sense that the victimized get their rights back, and, there’s Effie’s sparkling “One Night Only.”
Director Reid Leonard manages a huge cast, with help from choreographer and director Tod A. Kubo, vocal directors Jenny Carroll and Adrian Smith, and a tech crew that moves the simple set — a collection of lighting platforms, around. Smith is also the orchestra’s conductor.
For a night of pure music, “Dreamgirls” will take you back to an era when girl singers came in threes and made the move to pop and disco. The play is just under 21/2 hours, with a 20-minute intermission.
“Dreamgirls,” underwritten by Bill and Shari Graham, opens tonight at 7:30, and continues Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and Oct. 12-15 at 7:30 at the Meroney Theater, 213 S. Main St. For tickets, call 704-633-5471 or go to www.piedmontplayers.com.
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