Chicago Theatre Review
Hard to Say Goodbye
Dreamgirls – Porchlight Music Theatre
Porchlight Music Theatre’s highly anticipated staging of 1982’s multi-Tony Award-winning musical is loosely based on the life and career of the Supremes. The show has been re-imagined several times for Broadway, National Tours and film. However it’s presented here, at Stage 773, in a more intimate transformation by the talented director/choreographer, Brenda Didier. With its flashy sets, concert-style lighting and period fashions, the show almost demands a traditional proscenium production. But this three-quarter-round staging transforms a musical that’s often a slave to spectacle into a contained, personal, more visceral look at the ever-evolving music business and its artists. And that’s the strength of this staging: by stripping away much of the superfluous overwhelming scenery and eye-popping projections, Ms. Didier’s production is able to focus primarily on the characters, distancing this “Dreamgirls” from its predecessors.
And Brenda Didier’s characters do indeed shine. Donica Lynn is sensational. She stars with unmatched power and brilliance as Effie, the full-voiced, full-figured lead singer of the Dreams who’s eventually dumped by smarmy, wheeler-dealer manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. (exceptionally well-played by Evan Tyrone Martin). Not only does he lose Effie as the lead singer of the Dreams, but also as his lover. Ms. Lynn tears up the stage emotionally and vocally in so many numbers, particularly the show’s signature Act I finale, “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Katherine Thomas’ big voice and beautiful, beguiling stage presence make her a standout as the sweetly naive Lorrell Robinson, while lovely Candace C. Edward’s Deena Jones, a beautiful singer in the Diana Ross-inspired role, grows up significantly in her role.
This entire cast shines with unequaled brilliance. The exquisitely talented and charismatic Eric Lewis, who’s often impressed as an ensemble member in many musicals, is a jaw-dropping revelation as the flamboyant Jimmy Early. This James Brown/Little Richard-inspired character not only raises the roof with his astounding vocal talent, but Mr. Lewis is able to display his superb choreographic and gymnastic skills, as well. As C.C. White, Effie’s composer brother, Gilbert Domally is a gentle, loving and absolutely sublime young man. And Kyrie Courter is terrific in the less flashy role of Michelle Morris, the young singer brought in to replace Effie at the end of the first act.
Doug Peck has masterfully musically directed his cast through this Motown-inspired score, in addition to orchestrating and conducting the production’s talented five-piece band. Watch for Mr. Peck as he takes the stage, accompanying Effie during her knockout Act II number, “I am Changing.” Jeffrey D. Kmiec and Greg Pinsoneault’s modest scenic design is dominated by a multipurpose sweeping staircase. Denise Karczewski and Kevin Barthel’s authentic-looking1960’s era costumes and wigs provide all the necessary glitz and glamour befitting a Dream.
This is a stunningly gorgeous production of Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s somewhat biographical musical, directed and choreographed with sass and style by Brenda Didier. Although she makes a few unorthodox choices in her staging (one of which is directing Effie to face upstage during much of her Act I diva turn), Ms. Didier does a wonderful job of equally including the entire audience, allowing spectators seated around the thrust stage to enjoy every exciting moment. Her rhythmic choreography is both exciting and stylistically period perfect. Several performances from this finely crafted production will be remembered for years to come as the actors’ groundbreaking moment. If that isn’t a Dream, what is? By the end of this fast-moving musical, the audience will find themselves humming the score on the way home, ultimately finding it “Hard to Say Goodbye.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 8-May 22 by Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-327-5252 or by going to www.porchlightmusictheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com