REVIEW: ‘Dreamgirls’ at Centre Stage Sizzles with Dream Cast

Photo by Wallace KrebsBY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Who needs a Jennifer (Holliday or Hudson) when Greenville has a Jessica.

The most anticipated revival of the new season “Dreamgirls” is an ensemble act through and through, but that didn’t prevent an opening night audience from leaping to its feet after being shaken and stirred by Jessica Eckenrod’s “(And I Am Telling You) I’m Not Going.”

Not to mention a partial standing ovation in the second act with “I Am Changing.” Get it, Girl!

This 1981 Broadway smash is another winsome musical sensation for Centre Stage, with a sizzling, mostly brown cast, a sparkling wardrobe and some 44 wigs styled by Victor DeLeon.

Inspired by 1960s acts like The Supremes, the “Dreamgirls” – Eckenrod as belter Effie White, Amesha McElveen as Deena Jones (the Diana Ross doppelgänger) and Tierney Breedlove as Lorrell Robinson (the Mary Wilson) – are a singing trio The Dreamettes with aspirations of winning a talent contest at the famed Apollo Theater, and a recording deal.

And though they don’t win the contest, the ladies do secure a new energetic – albeit shady – manager, Curtis Taylor (Roderice “The MADD Artist” Cardell in his Centre Stage debut) aka Berry Gordy, who gets them a gig as backup singers for R&B star Jimmy Early, the impeccable and incredibly agile Kristofer Parker in a role (and wig) clearly modelled after the late great James Brown.

Romances and rivalries ensue as Curtis changes their image and turns the ladies into pop crossover legends, while boosting Deena with the silky voice  to the forefeont as lead singer, and sending the heavy-hitter powerhouse Effie to the back. Effie is ultimately fired Florence Ballard-style (just before a show) and replaced by a Cindy Birdsong, Michelle Morris (played by Whitney Daniels).

Briskly-paced and directed by Paige ManWaring, ‘Dreamgirls” is packed with authentic sounds of the era written by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger: the other musical numbers (with choreography by William Wilkins) are sublime from the titular “Dreamgirls,” to “Cadillac Car,” “Stepping to the Bad Side,” “One Night Only” and “I Meant You No Harm.”

Rounding out the main supporting cast is Centre Stage regular Brian Reeder as Jimmy’s manager Marty and DeBryant Johnson as Effie’s brother CC.

Oh, and I might add that poor Amesha had a sore throat on opening night and expertly lip synced while music director Taylor Marlatt effortlessly sang all of her songs perched high in a seat in the audience. Taylor is the fifth Dreamgirl in my book.

My only qualm, and a minor one, with “Dreamgirls,” is the scenic design (a two-story platform with two roving wooden staircases). Though clever and functional within the space’s limitations, the set seems almost dowdy at key moments. Much of the drama literally occurs backstage so looking at the back of the stage makes sense much of time. But for the “live performances,” the glamour is missing. Where is the glitz the ladies deserve?

Genesis Garza (lighting) and Costume designer and assistant director Celia Blitzer inject a dose of  fabulousness aesthetic and pizzazz to “Dreamgirls” with gorgeous beaded and sequined gowns, a canary yellow feather cape, and even a visually striking 20-foot train that Deena wears during a Vogue photo shoot in “One More Picture Please.”

“Dreamgirls” continues through Sept. 30 at Centre Stage, 501 River Street in Greenville. Call (864) 233-6733 or visit http://www.centrestage.org/

 

 

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