There’s not much to say, except for this production of Dreamgirls was stale. It’s a story that focuses on relationships of the the three Dreamettes (later known as The Dreams) – Effie, Deena and Lorrell. With no thought to any of the real relationships, director Robert Longbottom, made his cast work overtime as they tried to connect with each other amidst the sterile environment of the stage. This lead to over zealous performances that became self-indulgent, drowning in disingenuous sentimentality.
First, it was struggle to divide the two worlds: on-stage and off-stage. Again, I place the blame on Longbottom and the set designer, Robin Wagner. While they were trying to be clever with the beautiful moving lighting panels, it became extremely disjointed. The lighting panels became the star of the show. It became a guessing game on how the panels were going to move next and trust me, it was pretty fantastic.
I never felt like I was a part of the action – always an outsider looking in. I could never connect; I never cared.
There was a brief moment in the second act when Deena (Syesha Mercado) and Effie (Moya Angela) sang “Listen” that I connected and got goose-bumps. It was fantastic. Ironically, “Listen” is a new song that was inserted in this production that was recently featured in the movie version of Dreamgirls. (Apparently, Beyonce wanted her shining moment in the movie so “Listen” was written just for her.) Syesha Mercado soared on this particular song. It finally showcased her vocal talent. Part of the reason they shined in this song was the lighting panels were non-existent at this point. The panels had moved far enough upstage that they weren’t upstaging the performers (like they did most of the show).
Angela’s rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” had superior singing but her acting was border-line self-indulgent. Every sentence and feeling was over exaggerated to extent that again, I was taken out of the show. She didn’t let me in. The crowd loved it; I somehow missed it.
I will say that Chester Gregory killed it. He played James “Thunder” Early with such charisma that he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, including myself. We ate it up. He’s a true star.
For a show with so much passion, I left the theatre feeling passionless. It was completely and utterly stale.