What does it cost to achieve a dream? What happens when the dream becomes reality? What happens when the reality isn’t as dream-like as you thought? These are all themes explored by Dreamgirls, North Carolina Theatre’s latest production. The show, directed to perfection by Christopher D. Betts, features a compelling book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and the unforgettable music of Henry Krieger. It also benefits from a talented cast, gorgeous costumes, and dazzling, eye-catching choreography. And, while all those things are impressive, what really resonates here is how real, sympathetic, and memorable these 1960s characters are.
The story may play out in a far-removed decade, but the characters and their aspirations are still majorly relatable. There’s beautiful Deena (Joy Woods), sweet Lorrell (Nya), and super talented Effie (Tamara Jade). Together, they make up the aspiring musical group The Dreamettes, and viewers bear witness to their entire journey. We get to see their rise to the top and every single struggle along the way. Also along for the ride is Curtis (Erick D. Patrick), the Dreamettes’ manager. He knows they’re something special from the moment he sees them, but unfortunately, his misplaced ambitions and wandering eye ultimately spell problems for the group.
But, before there’s conflict, there’s joy. Thanks to strong writing and rich characterization, the Dreamettes quickly become characters worth rooting for. Their ambition, their work ethic, and, most of all, their sincere love for one another keeps viewers firmly in their corner. At the same time, the incredible choreography leaps right off the stage and keeps viewers watching. There are also lots of laughs along the way, thanks largely to James “Thunder” Early (Saint Aubyn), an over-the-top R&B star the girls work with. Aubyn knows how to make his character silly, authentic, and absolutely lovable.
Speaking of lovable, all three of the Dreamettes are fully realized characters. They’re not perfect, and both Deena and Effie make their fair share of mistakes, but viewers never stop caring about them. As the group grows more successful, Effie becomes ostracized, both for her strong sound and her full figure, while Deena gets put front and center. Jade does a good job of showing Effie’s pain and heartbreak and belts out every number with incredible power. However, the song that showcases her vocal talent and emotional range the best - and it’s certainly hard to choose - is “And I am Telling You.” Meanwhile, Woods holds her own vocally as well, and she creates a Deena that’s so sweet, so innocent, and so enamored with life that it’s hard not to love her too. In fact, one of the strengths of Dreamgirls is that there are no villains here. Even Curtis, with his imperfections and often selfish ambitions, is not drawn as fully “bad,” and with Patrick’s sympathetic portrayal, he becomes a character you care for in spite of some of his choices.
As the story moves toward its conclusion, viewers will take joy in Iris Ponce Lloyds’ fabulous costumes. From fluffy pink ensembles to glorious green garbs, she makes sure the Dreamettes are dressed to impress. The diverse body types showcased on stage also add to the visual appeal, along with cool lighting effects and sparkling set pieces.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to watch here, a lot to think about here, and a lot to love. The ending brings the story full circle and adds a healthy dose of empowering femininity into the mix. This, combined with the show’s strong but subtle statements about the injustice POC in entertainment often face, makes Dreamgirls a show that’s fun, enjoyable, but also rife with substance. Don’t miss it!
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