BWW Reviews: Signature Theatre's DREAMGIRLS is Electric
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by Charles Shubow
The night we came to see DREAMGIRLS was also the night that the area around the Signature Theatre was celebrating the holidays so there were detours set up which required much patience to get to the theater. There was singing, music, food, drink, and horse-drawn buggies giving children quite a thrill. All the trees in the neighborhood were illuminated to make the area quite festive.
The view from the Signature Theatre lobby was gorgeous. The view in the Max Theatre was also electrified with enough light bulbs (over 500) to heat up the audience thanks to wonderful lighting design by Chris Lee . If you sit close to the stage, bring some sunscreen. The wonderful sets are by Adam Koch, and exquisite sound is by Matt Rowe (no easy task).
And that is what makes seeing shows at the Signature so exciting. You are right on top of the action and when the actors are singing, you may catch a bit of that sweat on your clothes. It is an exhilarating experience.
The story of the book by Tony winner Tom Eyen concerns an opportunistic promoter who sees potential in a three-women group named "The Dreamettes" and takes the "heavy" lead singer and replaces her with a more curvaceous singer
Many of you may have seen the terrific film which has made a star of Jennifer Hudson in her portrayal of Effie White
I was fortunate to see the original Broadway cast of DREAMGIRLS, directed by Michael Bennett, which won 6 Tony Awards in 1982 and featured Jennifer Holiday. Playing the role of Jimmy "James Thunder" Early then was the amazing Cleavant Derricks who garnered a Tony Award for his role. Well, what a coincidence. Derricks is currently performing across the Potomac River at the Arena Stage in the wonderful PULLMAN PORTER BLUES (see my review shortly).
Thankfully the Signature production is loaded with talent, including Cedric Neal as Early. Whenever Neal is on stage, he almost steals the action in an incredible performance. In the second act when the book lags a bit, it is Neal who resuscitates the show. I hope Derricks gets the chance to see it.
Director/Choreographer Matthew Gardner has assembled a terrific cast and does a great job moving the action forward and I mean moving. Helping him with the great choreography is Brianne Camp. Playing the original "Dreamettes" are Shayla Simmons as the sexy Deena Jones, Crystal Joy as Lorrell Robinson who has her heart set on promoter Curtis Taylor,Jr. (a terrific Sydney James Harcourt), and playing Effie White, is the incomparable Nova Y. Payton. Later on when Effie leaves the group, she is replaced by Kara-Tameika Watkins playing the role of Michelle Morris.
The poster of the show features the wonderfully talented Payton and she deserves it. She is quite an accomplished performer. It is goose-bump city when she belts out the anthem-like "And I am Telling You".
As always, the Signature does not scrimp on the 10 piece orchestra conducted by Darius Smith and under the music direction of Jon Kalbfleisch. They are superb.
I must also mention especially the costume designs by Frank Labovitz. I recommend Jessica Goldstein's "Backstage" column about Labovitz in the November 28, 2012 Washington Post.
This is a must see show and tickets are going fast. Thankfully, Signature has extended it to January 13, 2013.
This means that the show will be performed on New Year's Eve with a party afterwards. Tickets for the show range from $40 to $87. If you've already seen the show, you can still attend the post-show party for $75 (subscribers) or $100 for the general public.
There are also Backstage Tours (tickets are $20) held at 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoons where you get a chance to see the costumes up close and see a short film with the designers. Space is limited.
You can also see Nova Y. Payton alone in the Signature Cabaret March 13 to March 16, 2013.
For tickets, call 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.