If a critic were limited to just one word to describe a performance, the word for Dream Girls would be POWERFUL! What an amazing musical, dazzling cast, vivid costumes, smooth transitions and outstanding performance.
Stage Door, a small, 350-seat theater, rarely disappoints.
Of course, the R&B music is vivid and catchy — that is to be expected. The plus is the way the story unfolds while linking the songs.
The obvious story is about three young, black singers (think Supremes) — the Dreamettes — trying to establish themselves as stars. As they move on to become “The Dreams, ” what enhances a rags-to-riches theme lies in the interplay among these three and their cohorts — songwriter, manager, and fellow artists — which not only contains dreams, but also nightmares as they reveal their struggles and conflicts in interesting plot twists. What happens offstage often transcends what happens before audiences.
There is one moment so brilliant and painful that the audience can only gasp and admire how well Sarah Grace (as trio lead Effie White), cries out in anguish when losing both her starring role and her lover. Her angst is palpable as she desperately tries to hang on to the present while belting out the lyrics to “I’m Not Going.”
Later, this is paralleled when Don Steward, as her con-man ex-lover, Curtis Taylor, Jr. suffers the same, demeaning experience and also loses everything he loves and values. No one escapes unscathed.
Elijah Word (think James Brown) nearly steals the show as singer/dancer James Thunder Early, another would-be star whose artistic path intersects and crosses the Dreamgirls career. At one point, he breaks the fourth wall, going down into the audience to involve them, increasing their understanding and involvement with these characters. The show is nothing if not empathetic.
The musical, which opened on December 20, 1981, and deals with the 1960’s (Act I) and 70’s (Act II) is still timely, universally relevant — dealing with human problems and often-troubled solutions.
Beneath the surface –the undeniable talent of the young performers — lies much underhandedness — denying the winners of an amateur singing competition, stealing songs from each other, and ever-present discrimination. Throughout, the musical reflects the historical world depicted in the recent novel, Windy City Blues, by Renee Rosen.
Kudos to choreographer Danny Durr, costume designer Jerry Sturdefant, director Kevin Black and set designer Ardean Landhuis for the two-tier stage so effectively book cased by spiral stairs.
Dreamgirls, which was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, and won six, five Drama Desk Awards, and two Grammy Awards, got a deservedly standing ovation at Stage Door. A successful 2006 film starred Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, and Danny Glover. Famous as is this cast, and excellent as it may be, it can’t beat the skill and immediacy of the performance right now at Margate’s Stage Door Theater. Nothing can compare with live theater — especially when it is so well done.
Dreamgirls is playing at Stage Door Theater, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Margate, FL 954-344-7765; Tickets are $48 and are available from www.stagedoorfl.org. The show runs through December 10, 2017.
Showtimes: Wednesday, Saturday, & Sunday at 2 pm,
Friday & Saturday at 8 pm
Reviewed by Beverly Friend, Ph.D., member of American Theater Critics Association