Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Dreamgirls": ☼ ☼ BANG

Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough to describe the new traveling "Dreamgirls," currently running at the Curran through September 26. The highs are monumental -- notably, the costumes and costume changes (305 costumes and 175 wigs used during a single performance), several of the leads (none more spectacular than Chester Gregory as Jimmy "Thunder" Early) and the quintessential show-biz story itself of the unknown girl group rising to unfathomable success (not the Supremes, but The Dreams).

And no discussion about Dreamgirls cannot include the incomparable sets -- you won't see a more interesting-looking stage anywhere than Robin Wagner's Scenic Design at the Curran, with lights by Ken Billington and mixed media by Lightswitch. Even stripped down from the enormous Broadway original, this is a feast for the eyes.

The costumes, most of the leads and the sets themselves are ample reason to want to come see the current production. You've seen the movie -- come grab a taste of what it looked like originally on Broadway, when the show premiered in 1981.

But in the interest of honest disclosure, just as a conversation about Dreamgirls must include staging, so it must also include the music. Tom Eyen (Book and Lyrics) and Henry Krieger (Music) MUST have been listening to the Supremes, the Marvelettes, Tammi Terrell and Gladyce Knight. Right? Marvin Gaye? The Temptations? What about catchy tunes? Catchy, danceable tunes? Catchy, danceable, joyful tunes? Catchy, danceable, joyful and infectious tunes that peg themselves into your skull like a sticky pad you can't remove?

None of that here. Zzzzzip. Act One sets you up for a musical payoff and Act Two puts you to sleep. Although the audience screamed and applauded for Moya Angela, who plays the sympathetic part of Effie White, made famous first by Jennifer Holliday and then Jennifer Hudson, and though Ms. Angela's acting was first rate, it has to be mentioned that her pitch in Act Two was...let's just say problematic. We are not talking about a note here and a note there.

Hey, these things happen and it may have been Opening Night jitters. We leave that to you to decide. And there is no pitch so perfect that these lyrics cannot injure:

"Walking down that wrong road
There was nothing I could find
All those years of darkness
Could make a person blind"


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Dreamgirls" Two Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. First, the bangle: Chester Gregory and Chaz Lamar Shepherd. Gregory, who had the moxie to play Jackie Wilson, arguably the greatest soul singer who ever lived, on Broadway in "The Jackie Wilson Story," puts the OW! in shOWstopper! We want them to stop this silly story and just give James "Thunder" Early another half dozen songs. Sings! Dances! OW! Similarly, Shepherd's gospel voice, though it only gets hinted at a few times, is beautiful, in an Al Green kind of mystical way. And yet he plays the most hardboiled character of all, the Berry Gordy figure, the driven visionary. Shepherd and Gregory are two excellent reasons to catch "Dreamgirls."

Syesha Mercado as Deena, Adrienne Warren as Lorrell, Trevon Davis as C.C., Milton Craig Nely as Marty and Margaret Hoffman as Michelle are also excellent. The mountains are high in Dreamgirls and many may choose to ignore the valleys.

Curran Theater
445 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through Sept. 26

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