Friday night was opening night for Dreamgirls at Cumberland County Playhouse. The story of the rise and fall of a 60’s era girl group, it’s another “big” production for CCP this year. I made my way down at the last minute, without a ticket, hoping that I could get in. I was able to. And in fact, I ended up sitting in the first row. A little hard on the neck at times, but a good view, nonetheless.
The original Broadway production opened in 1981 and won 6 Tony Awards in 1982. The 2006 movie starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, and Jennifer Hudson won 2 Oscars. Obviously, due to my age, I never saw the Broadway production. And due to my location, I had never seen a staged production of the show at all. But I enjoyed the movie and was looking forward to seeing what the Playhouse could do with such a famous show.
Much of the set are the same pieces as used in Chicago, with enough changes to make it work, including see through walls that allowed the audience to feel the difference between backstage and onstage settings for the actors. Costuming was amazing. Since the show spans a couple of decades, it was interesting to see the change in the costuming from the start of the show to the end. One thing that was very easy to notice (thanks to my front row seat) was the plethora of AMAZING shoes. Oh the glitter.
During the show the setting was often projected in words on the back of the stage. At first it was a little strange to me. It almost didn’t feel right. But the further along the show went, the more thankful I was for it since the show moves at an incredibly fast rate and covers two decades in the span of a few hours.
The Dreamettes are three girls looking for fame by joining a talent contest at the Apollo in New York. Instead of winning the talent contest, Effie, Lorrelle and Deena end up being “discovered” by questionable manager Curtis Taylor Jr who starts then singing back up for the famous James (Jimmy) Thunder Early. Curtis immediately woos Effie sensing that she is the key to getting the group to sign on with him and Lorrelle winds up in a relationship with the very married and very…crazy Jimmy Early.
From the start of the show, Effie, played by Lar’Juanete William (previously seen at CCP as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray) is nearly impossible to like. She’s rude, self-centered, and does almost nothing other than complain. It made it hard to make a connection with the character (though I’m not sure if that was the way the show was written or the way Ms. William’s chose to portray Effie). In fact, the show stopping number “And I Am Telling You” that is done right before intermission…well, it didn’t really stop the show for me. Effie has just been broken up with by her boyfriend/manager and kicked out of the group she helped to start…yet I didn’t feel much for her, other than thinking that she kind of brought it on herself.
However, Ms. Williams totally bought the character of Effie back around in the second act. Her shining moment was “I Am Changing.” It marked the first point in the show that I actually cared about Effie and wanted to see Effie succeed.
Curtis Taylor Jr was played by Keith McCoy. His whole demeanor was perfect for the role. He was rough, mean at times, and totally driven. Curtis Taylor Jr would do whatever it took to see “his” group succeed, no matter the cost to the people around him or any other innocent bystanders.
Deena, played by LaKeta Booker (who was also in Hairspray at CCP as Little Inez). Deena does what she’s told, and while she gets frustrated with Effie before the group split, you can tell that she doesn’t do anything simply to be mean. A fact made apparent in the second act when Curtis releases a song by the Dreams that Effie has recorded as a solo artist. Deena is appalled and tells both Curtis, and eventually Effie that.
There was an amazing supporting cast, as always. It was a large show, having almost 30 cast members. The shining group numbers of the show were “Steppin’ To the Bad Side” in act one and “One Night Only Disco” in the second act. My ensemble member of the show (I always seem to have one that catches my attention) was Donald Frison. He played several roles in the show and is an amazing dancer.
The star of the entire show, however, was Charles Lattimore. Lattimore played the role of Jimmy Early and was hilarious from start to finish. You could feel the audience getting engaged in Jimmy and investing themselves in the show anytime he was on stage.
For those of you who’ve seen the movie, expect a different feel. But you can also expect the staples of the Cumberland County Playhouse of great group numbers, outstanding actors and all the professionalism of a New York stage. Dreamgirls is only playing through October 14th, and on a very limited schedule, so be sure to catch it soon!
Also, for your enjoyment, a video trailer from CCP's YouTube site!