"Dreamgirls" at Seattle's Paramount offers plenty of flash and dazzle, and terrific costumes, but comes up shy in terms of musical and emotional nuance.
The production of “Dreamgirls” now at Seattle’s Paramount Theater offers plenty of flash and dazzle, but comes up shy in terms of musical and emotional nuance.
The plot concerns the repackaging of an art form — the smoothing over of the rhythm-and-blues of the 1960s into a more mainstream pop sound. “Dreamgirls” itself has gone through several reinventions. It first opened on Broadway in 1981 in a production directed by Michael Bennett, and was made into a film in 2006. The touring version, directed by Robert Longbottom, premiered last fall at the Apollo Theater.
It is there that the play opens. A singing trio (similar to the Supremes) is discovered by impresario Curtis Taylor Jr. (Chaz Lamar Shepherd). He launches their careers, shapes their style and breaks their hearts. When he fires the big-bodied, big-voiced Effie, (Moya Angela), she lets loose with the showstopper, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
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Syesha Mercado, an “American Idol” finalist, looks lovely as Deena, the Diana Ross-like character who replaces Effie, although her voice can get patchy at times. However, in “Listen,” a song from the film, Mercado is in her element. Lush-voiced Adrienne Warren plays Lorrell, the other member of the trio.
The problem with this production is that the difference between the rough-and-tumble of R&B and the sweetened-up-for-pop singing styles are not delineated enough. Most of the songs are just belted in contemporary go-for-broke style.
An exception to this rule was the performance by Chester Gregory as James “Thunder” Early, based on James Brown. The moment when Early refuses to croon like Tony Bennett, and opens up instead with his gravel-to-falsetto voice and unleashes his loose-limbed dancing, was the highlight.
Robin Wagner’s scenic design (media design by Howard Werner for Lightswitch) with lighting by Ken Billington, occasionally upstaged the actors. The orchestra, conducted by Sam Davis, created a big, rich sound.
The biggest pleasures of this production are in the gorgeous costumes by William Ivey Long and Paul Huntley’s hairstyles. There were an unbelievable number of costume and wig changes, all meticulously attentive to the style shifts of 1962-1975, taking us from bouffant to Afro and from chenille to dashiki. More of this type of attention to nuance might have been given to the singing styles, and made this largely entertaining production more satisfying.
Mary Murfin Bayley: firstname.lastname@example.org