Dreamgirls | The Black Repertory Theater

Normally, I am impressed by the Black Rep's productions. Unfortunately, this performance was plagued with sound issues for most of the first act, which caused the dialogue-heavy story to suffer.

 

Book by Tom Eyen
Music by Henry Krieger
Directed by Ron Himes
Through July 2, 2006

Bigger-than-life characters with bigger-than-life dreams filled the stage at the Grandel Theatre as the Black Rep closed out its 29th season with Dreamgirls. The story is a look at the ‘60s music scene filled with dazzling girl groups, sexy soul singers, and the seedy management that looks to exploit the talented performers. The group highlighted in this story is the Dreamettes, a musical trio hailing from Chicago who takes a chance on entering a talent contest in New York City. While in New York, the girls meet the dynamic James "Thunder" Early, who takes on the girls as back upsingers for his upcoming tour. The rest of the story tracks the Dreamettes' musical career as they rise to fame, with all the twists and turns every performer must endure while they chase their dreams.

Normally, I am impressed by the Black Rep's productions. Unfortunately, this performance was plagued with sound issues for most of the first act, which caused the dialogue-heavy story to suffer. For the most part, I could follow what the actors were saying/singing, but whenever they turned their backs to my side of the audience, it would become difficult to hear. Having to compensate for this technical glitch eventually wore on the actors' vocals, as they appeared to lose steam towards the end of the first act.

Fortunately, director Ron Himes stacked the deck with top-notch talent. Casting Willena Vaughn in the role of Effie Melody White was brilliant; Vaughn had all of the attitude and vocal abilities to bring the dynamic diva to life. While the crowd enjoyed Vaughn's vocals on the showstopping "(And I Am Telling You) I'm Not Going," she won me over with the more intimate arrangements of "One Night Only" and "I Am Changing." Teamed with the remaining two-thirds of the Dreamettes-Jia Taylor as Deena Jones and Malkia Stampley as Lorrell Robinson-Vaughn was in good company as this talented trio proved to be a musical tour de force.

Not to be outdone, the men in the cast rose to the challenge thrown down by the ladies. Jahi Kearse was terrific as the flamboyant James "Thunder" Early. Not only was Kearse vocally on point, his over-the-top portrayal of the '60s soul singer was hilarious to watch. Not letting Kearse own too much of the spotlight were both J. Samuel Davis as the shifty Curtis Taylor Jr. and Kevin Roston Jr. as the eternally optimistic C.C. White. Both of these actors worked well together portraying completely opposite ends of the music business spectrum. Davis nailed his seedy manager role-only thinking of profits and his career-while Roston Jr. successfully proved that good deeds don't always go unnoticed.

Technically, the show succeeded in both costuming and choreography. Greg Horton's attention to detail paid off as his creations nearly stole the show. The women were draped in elegance and the men looked sharp as a tack. Millie Garvey's dance movements were both eye-catching and a joy to watch. Both of these unsung heroes should pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Despite the audio problems, the show worked on so many other levels. The show is rich in story, characters, and most importantly, talent. While not my favorite show of the season, Dreamgirls will definitely end the Back Rep's season on a high and delightful note.

The Black Repertory Theater continues Dreamgirls through July 2, 2006 at the Grandel Theatre (3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis). Performances are at 7 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri. & Sat., and 3 p.m. Sat. & Sun. Tickets range from $17-40 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 314-534-3810 or visiting www.theblackrep.org.

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