Review: Dreamgirls at Village Theatre

 

Dreamgirls Production photo © 2017 Mark Kitaoka

With its final show of the 2016-2017 season, Village Theatre concludes an impressive year of stage magic with Dreamgirls, directed by Artistic Director Steve Tomkins.

The influential show introduced Motown to the world of musical theater in 1983. Since then, several revivals and a 2006 film adaptation have solidified its place in American theater and music. Loosely based on famous music figures Beer Gordy, The Supremes, and Diana Ross, Dreamgirls follows the inspiring journey of a female singing trio and the group’s ascent to stardom. With their rise, a distinct new sound in American music not only emerges but also gains mainstream popularity.

Effie (Angela Birchett), Deena (Lauren De Pree) and Lorell (Alexandria Henderson), begin their career singing back-up for James “Jimmy” Early (Nathanial Tenenbaum) before successfully crossing over to the pop charts as their own group. The story illuminates the complicated and sometimes dubious behind-the-scenes workings of show business and its toll on their personal lives. Eventually, Efffie leaves The Dreams after the more traditionally beautiful Deena replaces her as lead vocalist. Friendships and alliances are challenged and sacrifices made in a complex female-focused story.

Audiences of all backgrounds can connect with at least one of the show’s many lead characters. The primarily African American cast is comprised of familiar faces from former Village productions as well as many newcomers. A large ensemble frequently appears, dancing to both high-energy choreography and subtle background movements by Daniel Cruz.

Nathaniel Tenenbaum captivates audiences as Jimmy— a womanizing James Brown caricature who you can’t help but adore. His vocal range, physicality, and honesty bring Jimmy to life, from his fall from centerstage star to the butt of tabloid jokes. Just as he repeats throughout “The Rap”: “Jimmy got soul” and so does Tenenbaum.

Dreamgirls highlights the invaluable contribution Black American singers contribute to the history of American music with R&B, Motown, and Disco. You won’t be able to stop yourself from openly praising the voices in this production. Vocal skill and power are expected; it’s the soul and emotional truth sung through each line and dizzying run that will surprise you in the most delightful way possible.

Mirchett flawlessly performs a vocal marathon throughout the show, exciting cheers during “And I Am Telling You” and silencing audiences to chills in “I Am Changing” and “One Night Only.” The silky voices of De Pree and Henderson effortlessly riff like gentle hands over velvet, and the combined sound of all three women will melt away your to-do list for a couple hours.

As the show progresses, a countless number of costumes take you on a style journey from the 1960s to the 1970s. They reinforce the passing of time and The Dreams’ growth from an amateur group to national superstars. Tightly curled wigs and bright hoops skirts make way for mod photoshoots and elegant glittering gowns. Despite the set’s various moving parts and glittering costumes, the actors’ voices were the shining element of the show. The actors sing as if there is “one night only.”

Dreamgirls features some of the most iconic genres in American music and voices to sing them justice. Whether a fan of the musical or stranger to the genre, you will leave the Village Theatre’s production impressed and uplifted. Performances continue in Issaquah until July 2 before transferring to Everett July 7-30. Tickets available at www.villagetheatre.org.

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