By Patrick Hurley
The big, splashy Broadway musical Dreamgirls is playing now at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Set in the early days of Motown, Dreamgirls follows a trio of female African-American singers who work their way from back-up singers to all-out superstars. When we first meet the Dreamettes, they’re a young and hungry group fronted by the slightly solipsistic vocal powerhouse Effie White (Moya Angela) Then there’s Deana Jones (Jasmin Richardson), the sugary sweet pretty one, and Lorrell (Brittney Johnson), the wide-eyed young, naïve one.
We first see the young women at a singing contest at the legendary Apollo Theater, where they catch the eye of up-and-coming music mogul Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Scott A. People) Curtis soon sweet talks his way into Effie’s heart, and into the girls lives. He gets them a gig singing backup for Jimmy Thunder Early (David LaMarr), and soon breaks them off into their own group, the more mature sounding “Dreams.” The only catch he has is that Effie will no longer be singing lead for the group, Deana will. This does not sit well with Effie, who is convinced that Curtis and Deana are having an affair behind her back. So convinced that she is being wronged, Effie becomes unprofessional and even tries to sabotage the group on live television. Finally, Curtis decides the only solution is to replace Effie and buy her out of her contract with the Dreams. Again, this does not go over well, and leads to Effie’s desperate anthem at the end of Act One, “And I am telling you, I’m not going.”
Then there’s the illegal dealings of Curtis along the way. Payola schemes and payoffs that are manifest through the confessional, “Steppin’ to the Bad Side.” Curtis is sort of an unredeemable snake, and so when he wrong’s Effie and falls for Deana, there is very little reason to believe his motivations are sincere.
After Effie is replaced with Michelle (Danielle Truitt), the Dreams go on to become a singing sensation, and Deana an international superstar. Meanwhile Effie’s brother CC (John Devereaux), who is the songwriter for the Dreams, grows weary of the mainstream sound that Curtis has turned the girls into, and he decides after years of selling out his own artistry to go and find Effie to make things right. To get her to sing his new song like only she can.
Effie, who has fallen to the wayside, and is trying to pick herself up, is singing in a nightclub when CC finds her and gives her a new break with his new song “One Night Only.” A song that Curtis owns the rights to and decides to record with Deana as a disco hit, and then proceeds to bump Effie from the charts with his shady dealings. This time CC and Effie go to confront Curtis with lawyers. And thus, the awful truth about Curtis comes out. Deana and Effie are reunited in a new and extraneous adaptation of the song “Listen,” and all’s well.
This production looks good. Director/Choreographer Robert Longbottom does a solid job of creating the theatricality of the space with the help of clever lighting designed by Ken Billington with multimedia elements designed by Howard Werner and beautiful costumes designed by William Ivey Long. The production is slightly marred by a few disconnected performances and the overwrought book by Tom Eyen. Relying on somewhat stock characters, the play is dated and it’s hard to answer the question: Why this play, why now? Other than creating a decent throwback, this version of Dreamgirls doesn’t feel relevant or even all that contemporary. The projected visuals add something, but in the end it’s smoke and mirrors to a show that is essentially all about greed and self interest. Every character from Effie to Curtis, to Jimmy to Deana are narcissistic enough to consider themselves worthier than others. In fact, most of them have a song or speech declaring as much. There’s entitlement all over this show, and so it’s a little bit hard to empathize truly with anyone of these characters.
Of the cast, David LaMarr as Jimmy Early is the standout. He perfectly plays up the narcissism, and his musical numbers are always a highlight. There is a preposterous air about him that makes him a victim of not only his time but his own hubris, and so like a tragic hero, his downward spiral is self-inflicted but also sad, and always captivating.
As Effie White, Moya Angela Does a good job with the larger-than-life attitude, and her vocals are impressive. The performance, however, is a bit strained. She goes over-the-top, but we never really see behind the diva into the woman. She’s a great singer, but it’s unfortunately, too often, a one note performance.
As Lorrell, Brittney Johnson is perhaps the most fleshed out of all the Dreamgirls. We see her evolve from a wide-eyed innocent girl to a strong woman, and the actress balances it well.
In the end, this production is a mixed mag. It resonates musically with plenty of familiar songs, but the relationships never seem connected, and the story feels somewhat strained because of it. But on a technical level, it is definitely a dazzling, visual treat.
Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by Henry Krieger
Directed and Choreographed by Robert Longbottom
OPENS SATURDAY, MARCH 26 THROUGH SUNDAY, APRIL 17
PREVIEW: Friday, March 25 at 8pm
PERFORMANCES: Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays at 8pm;
Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm; Sundays at 2pm.
LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada, CA 90638.
Free, ample lot parking.
Tickets range from $20 – $70
For tickets, please call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or buy online at
http://www.lamiradatheatre.com. Student, Senior, Child and Group discounts are