Dreamgirls dazzle the Paramount

Moya Angela as Effie in a photo by Joan Marcus

The challenge all established plays face is keeping the story fresh when it’s too well known for surprise. Simply sticking to the script isn’t enough but make too many alterations and you lose your audience. Broadway Across America‘s current production of Dreamgirls, now on stage at the Paramount incorporates two new songs, including one created specifically for the movie version but otherwise stays true to the original play, relying on its cast to keep the show current.

It’s a wise choice. Moya Angela is stunning as Effie White. It must be intimidating stepping into a role that made the careers of Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson, but Angela manages to find a way to make it her own. Naturally, she has the superb voice this part requires – indeed, her rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is every bit the show-stopper it’s meant to be – but she deserves praise for her acting skill, too. Brash, headstrong and temperamental Effie is strong-voiced in more than one way but underneath the would-be diva’s ego is a vulnerable woman whose talent seems to be her only chance to be “somebody”. When she’s pushed away from her slot in the spotlight by the man she thought loved her and the friends she thought would always be behind her, her wounded pride turns her venomous. And yet, even when Effie’s at her worst, Angela never lets you forget that there’s a complicated person behind that brilliant voice.

The absolute standout member of the cast, however, is Chester Gregory whose James “Thunder” Early gives the Dreamettes (the “dreamgirls” of the title, whose name will later become “The Dreams”) their first shot at musical success, only to become overshadowed by them no matter how many style changes he acquiesces to at the behest of Curtis Taylor (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), car salesman-turned-promoter extraordinaire who wastes no time in working to push “Jimmy”‘s existing manager, Marty (Milton Craig Nealy) into the same corner he shoves anyone who interferes with his dream. Jimmy Early is every bit as crass as Taylor, hardly a model of exemplary behavior himself, calls him, but despite his moral failings, you can’t help but like him. Credit Gregory’s charisma for that; credit his great musical talent for the way he effortlessly slips between the spirited soul he loves and the blander pop Taylor insists he perform. His fall from fame is mostly his own fault, but it’s touching nonetheless.

Syesha Mercado is an appropriately lovely Deena Jones, the back-up singer pushed into the role of frontwoman not being because she’s the best singer, but because she’s the best looking. Trevon Davis and Margaret Hoffman are good as CC White and Michelle Morris, respectively. Rounding out the cast is Adrienne Warren as Lorrell Robinson, the third of the original Dreamettes. She spends much of the show being the go along to get along girl who stands in the shadows of the primary players but when the time comes for Lorrell to finally stand up for herself, Warren makes you see that she’s had her own reserve of strength all along and it’s glorious to see her fully put it to use.

Dreamgirls continues through April 11; buy tickets online or call the box office at 1.877.784.4849.

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