Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dreamgirls Returns to New York's Apollo Theater

Sometimes you can take an excellent Broadway show and try to re-create an excellent revival of the original material. Most of time I personally find that most revival's tend to disappoint somewhat. Tonight's amazing performance of Dreamgirls, the 1982 winner of 6 Tony Awards and one of the most entertaining Broadway shows ever, is enjoying a very successful limited engagement at the famous Apollo Theater in historic Harlem. I loved everything I saw on the Apollo stage tonight. The singing, dancing, music and even the way some new material was worked into this production courtesy of Willie Reale. Mr. Reale co-wrote the song "Patience" for the Dreamgirls film. I especially liked the way some new staging concepts taken from the film of a few years ago really modernized this Dreamgirls production.

As the Apollo Theater celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year, Dreamgirls is playing through December 6, 2009 as it begins a 9 month tour of the United States. I think it's fitting for Dreamgirls to play New York's Apollo Theater seeing as how the Apollo often played home to the famous Amateur Nights competitions that launched the careers of many famous artists. The Apollo was home to James Brown, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson and many "girl groups" that include the Chantels, the Angels, Rosie and the Originals, the Crystals and the incredibly popular singing group, the Shirelles.

Dreamgirls takes place between 1962 and 1975 and is based on the story of how Diana Ross and The Supremes started out in the music business then rose to stardom in a short period of time, only to break up and all go their own ways. In the stage version, at the start of Act I we are witness to a Chicago girl group named The Dreamettes as they win the Apollo Amateur Night contest and then embark on a very successful musical career. The 1960's was an era where civil rights was the complicated issue of the time. It seems as if the influence of R & B and Soul music told the story of the turbulent period and changing times of the 60' and 70's. This new and evolving sound was the dominating influence along with the rise of many extremely talented Black performers.

The girls first start out as backup singers to the popular James Brown style singer of the time known as Jimmy "Thunder" Early. After a short time, their manager Curtis Taylor Jr. manages to get the girls their own headlining engagement. This move seems like a great one for the girls except Curtis insists on moving the lead singer of the Dreams "Effie" to more of a backup role. This puts Deena (in the Diana Ross role) in the spotlight. Not long after, we see bad feelings come out between the entire group, Curtis and C.C., who is Effie's little brother and the groups songwriter. Although the Dreamgirls often sang of love and happy times, the truth of the matter was that these amazingly talented ladies seemed to always fall in love with the "wrong men". And so by the end of Act I we witness Effie leaving the group and her man Curtis now in the arms of Deena.

In Act II, Effie is replaced by Michelle, Deena gets tired of performing and being on the road and begins to realize that Curtis is taking advantage of her. Just as he did with Effie. And Lorrell gives up on Jimmy ever making her his wife. So the group starts to crack and when Effie reappears with a new sound of her own, after not performing for 7 years or so, Curtis decides to try and curtail her new found success by paying off people in the business that could help shrink her record sales.

Effie and C.C. with their lawyer in tow, face off with Curtis and let him know that he cannot steal their music any longer.

As the story winds down, the girls give their final concert performance, invite Effie on stage to perform "Dreamgirls" and the end to a magical musical era is upon us. So in this story although it seems really wonderful that the girls hold true to their hearts and start to make the right life choices for themselves, we can only still wonder how people who can make such beautiful music together, can bear the unfortunate toll of broken relationships and unhappiness.

During the show you will hear beautiful music compositions and gorgeous voices. There may be several times that you might feel emotions getting the best of you particularly during "Family", "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", "I Miss You Old Friend", "I'm Somebody" and "Listen".

The show runs about 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission. The Book and Lyrics are by Tom Eyen, Music by Henry Krieger and the incomparable Michael Bennett is responsible for creating the original Broadway production's Direction and Choreography. Although Mr. Bennett passed on many years ago, he would be very proud of this Dreamgirls for sure. The cast lead by Moya Angela (Effie) and Chaz Lamar Shepherd (Curtis Taylor Jr.) all have significant experience in Broadway and regional theater as well as singing and recording backgrounds.

I remember fondly the very first time I saw the original Dreamgirls on Broadway at the Imperial Theater. I was a young ticket broker just starting out in my career. It was the day of a rare snow blizzard in early April 1982. Although the show was selling out every performance, I was able to get into the show as many patrons couldn't make it in with all the snow that was falling. I knew that on that very strange night of "snowed in" New York City, that Dreamgirls would make a big mark on the history of Broadway Theater. And I'm pleased to say that this excellent stage revival of Dreamgirls should have no problem pleasing its audiences during the current United States tour all over again in the days ahead.

Dreamgirls is playing the Apollo Theater now through December 6, 2009. If you want to talk with me about the show or need tickets, give me a call. I'd love to hear from you.


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