The Tony award-winning musical Dreamgirls can currently be seen in an impressive and entertaining staging at the Woodlawn Theatre on Fredericksburg Road.
Dreamgirls chronicles the careers of The Dreamettes, an ambitious girl group whose members are friends Effie White, Deena Jones and Lorell Robinson. It begins in 1962 when the trio is appearing at a talent contest held at the legendary Apollo Theater, performing a song composed by Effie’s brother, C.C. They don’t win the contest, but they do attract the attention of the devious manager Curtis Taylor Jr., who introduces them to the popular R&B performer James “Thunder” Early and convinces him to hire them as his backup singers.
At first Effie balks. She refuses to play second banana to anyone, but the others convince her that this is the way they can get their career started. As time passes, they become the Dreams and change their image. Their stars continue to rise and new relationships are formed, but the constant manipulation by Curtis causes everyone to turn against one another.
Dreamgirls plays out against a backdrop of memorable songs, composed in styles that reflect the changing of the times, including gospel, R&B and disco. They’re all performed by a sensational cast.
LaToya Chenelle Crawford and Janecia Stevenson are excellent as Deena and Lorell, and Naomi Williams Johnson plays Effie with gusto, nailing the first-act show-stopper “(And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going.”
Other cast members also impress, including Dwaylan Applewite as C.C., who puts his own ambition before family loyalty, and Amanda Jeffries as Michelle Morris, who steps in when Effie is ousted from the group. Bradley Freeman is a smoothly conniving Curtis, and Darcell Bios is a bundle of wildly kinetic energy as James.
The Woodlawn’s trademark sprawling ensemble injects the extra energy needed for such an endeavor, and it is well-choreographed by Michelle Pietri.
Darren Newhardt’s nine-piece orchestra offers the fullness required for such an odyssey through contemporary musical history, and Rose Kennedy provides a dazzling array of costumes. Benjamin Grabill, Ben Farrar and Matt Smith all contribute their usual excellent design work on the set, sound and lighting.
It’s all directed with assurance by Tim Hedgepeth (whose admitted passion for the show shines through), and it just keeps moving.
Dreamgirls plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through Sept. 15 at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road. Reservations can be made online or by calling (210) 267-8388.
Cover photo (l-r): Amanda Jeffries as Michelle Morris, LaToya Chenelle Crawford as Deena Jones and Janecia Stevenson as Lorell Robinson. Photos courtesy Woodlawn Theatre.