Thunder role

Out actor Eric LaJuan Summers, a scene-stealing boy among ‘Dreamgirls’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Eric LaJuan Summers is tearing it up, stealing scenes left and right as the James Brown-ish soul singer James “Thunder” Early in the Dallas Theater Center’s production of Dreamgirls. But despite all the attention, he’s always looking for the next great opportunity. Maybe… Deena Jones?

He kids, he kids… but kinda not.

When Summers started his career as an actor, he imagined himself as the staid, reliable, even dull leading-man type. The first time he auditioned for Dreamgirls, he was shooting for C.C. White, the studious songwriter.

“I’ve always been the serious one — the cute younger brother with a heart of gold,” he says of his self-image. But others saw something else.

“You should try out for Thunder Early,” the casting director suggested. That’s not really his persona, Summers countered. The casting director just shook her head.

“When you learn what your real type is, you’ll never stop working,” she counseled.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 2.55.38 PMTurns out she was right. Summers’ flamboyant turn Thunder Early gives the production a lot of its humor and sexual energy. And it’s just the latest role that shows his facility with over-the-top performances. Prior to Dreamgirls, Summers was with the Broadway production of Motown The Musical, portraying such irrepressible performers as Rick James, Jackie Wilson and Marlon Jackson. Before that, he auditioned for the role of Little Richard in the feature film Get On Up, but was deemed too old to play the teenaged version of the R&B legend (though his singing voice is in the film).

So tackling Thunder Early wasn’t much of a stretch. It’s the kind of over-the-top soul singer he’s become accustomed to. And he has a lot of inspirations to draw from.

“People always say the character is based on James Brown, but I add in some Little Richard, some Marlon, some Jackie,” Summers says. And audiences go wild, especially when the character goes off-book and drops trou during his Vegas number. Hey, a little exhibitionism never hurt anyone.

“Eric is a hoot and a great flirt,” says Joel Ferrell, his director for Dreamgirls. Told this, Summers feigns mock surprise.

“My mother saw the show and after she said, ‘So you don’t act anymore — you just show up and be yourself?’” he says. “I said, “How dare you! [Thunder] is a womanizer — I’m not!’ ‘That’s the only thing,’ she said.”

All of which leads to his desire to try something new and different. He thinks he could get the Celine-esque hand choreography of Deena Jones down. Or really anything that shows the chops he has.

“One of my favorite things about my first Broadway show [Aida] was, I had a death scene, I had a sword fight …  I want to do something serious. On a show like Will and Grace, I’m always Jack and Karen; I think it’s time to be the Will.”

That might be Summers’ goal, but audiences know what they like. And a little Thunder never hurt anybody.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: DTC announces 2015-16 season lineup

rsDTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty_Photo by Tadd MyersThe Dallas Theater Center will offer up three world premieres, partner with Houston’s famed Alley Theatre and return to Shakespeare in their next season, Kevin Moriarty, the DTC’s artistic director, just announced.

The season will also take place almost entirely at the Wyly Theatre downtown; this season, every show has ping-ponged between the Wyly and Uptown’s Kalita Humphreys Theater. Only Romeo & Juliet, the company’s first stab at Shakespeare since King Lear several seasons ago, will be at the Kalita.

Also, for the first time since the Wyly opened, there will be no summer musical. After Sense & Sensibility closes in late May, the DTC will be dark until the Sept. 2 debut of Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical, one of the world premieres announced by Moriarty. Based on the cornpone TV show, it will launch the 2015–16 season, running Sept. 2–Oct. 11 in the Potter Rose Hall at the Wyly.

Concurrently upstairs at the Wyly will be the area premiere of The Mountaintop, the Tony-nominated play about the last night of Martin Luther King Jr. It will run Sept. 11–Nov. 15 in the 99-seat Studio Theatre.

The season will then pick up with the traditional holiday show, A Christmas Carol. Brierley Resident Acting Company member Christina Vela will direct the adaptation by Moriarty, which the DTC has performed for the past two seasons. It will play Nov. 25–Dec. 26.

In a rare double bill during Dickens, the world premiere play Clarkston will run Dec. 3–Jan. 31 in the Studio Theatre. The play is about two men — a descendant of the explorer William Clark and a grad student in gender studies — who explore issues of faith and doubt in modern society. The author is MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Samuel Hunter.

In January 2016, the action moves to the Kalita for Romeo & Juliet, directed by Joel Ferrell. It runs Jan. 27–Feb. 28. Then it’s back to the Wyly for the area premiere of All the Way, the Tony Award winner from last Broadway season about LBJ. Moriarty will direct the show, which runs March 3–27.

Deferred Action, the final world premiere, will open from local playwrights David Lozano (Oedipus el Rey) and Lee Trull (A Christmas Carol). It deals with a Dreamer — a young immigrant taking advantage of the Dream Act (April 20–May 15). Finally, DTC returns to the summer musical format with a new presentation of Dreamgirls, the Tony-, Grammy- and Oscar-winning fictionalized telling of Motown and the rise of the Supremes (June 10–July 24).

Season subscriptions go on sale Feb. 9 and are available for as low as $126 (A Christmas Carol is a “bonus” show).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cedric Neal wins Helen Hayes Award

Liz Cedric Terry

We miss Cedric Neal in Dallas, but we’re also glad he’s met with such success. The former member of Dallas Theater Center‘s resident acting company (pictured above with fellow company member Liz Mikel and WaterTower artistic director Terry Martin) first went on to a role on Broadway in Porgy and Bess (he even went on a few times as Sportin’ Life, a role he understudied) and has continued to work. And it’s paid off.

Last week, Neal won a Helen Hayes Award, presented for excellence in theater in the Washington, D.C., area. He won best featured actor in a musical for his role in the Signature Theatre’s production of Dreamgirls, beating such competition as former Tony Award nominee Robert Cuccioli who appeared in 1776. Congrats, Cedric!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Jennifer on nice

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS DREAM Recently celebrating her 50th birthday, Jennifer Holliday has returned to the recording studio. But first, she sings with the Turtles on Wednesday.

Broadway legend Jennifer Holliday is telling us she’s not going … to miss a concert with the Turtle Creek Chorale

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

Every since her debut nearly 30 years, when she originated the role of Effie White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, introducing the now-legendary showstopper “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” Jennifer Holliday has had a voice that many people dream about. Even after another Jennifer (Hudson) performed the role in the 2006 film version of Dreamgirls (winning an Oscar for it) and following countless imitators who use the song as their go-to anthem for showcasing vocal prowess, it’s Holliday’s electrifying version that lingers in the mind.

She’s flattered of course that, decades later, people continue to perform her signature song on shows like American Idol, though she has some ideas about the changes in the music industry in general.

“I think it’s a different standard these days in what they’re looking for in terms of talent,” she says of show business in general, but while discussing the Fox singing competition directly. “I’m not knocking it. I’m glad that American Idol let them sing it again this year because I get paid! If they sing it or play it, I get paid. So it’s all right with me!”

You might expect her to cringe at the often-horrendous attempts to belt out like only she can, but Holliday’s perspective is far more positive.

“You can say, on the one hand, why would they do something so stupid to try to sing it? But on the other hand, you’ve got to have something in you — you’ve gotta have balls,” she says. “You’ve gotta have some guts to be in show business and if you can start there, if you’ve got enough inside of you to say, ‘I want to reach to those type of heights, this is the only song I know that means success, that means that you’ve arrived, so I’m gonna try it.’”

You don’t need to settle for imitators anymore, though; Holliday joins the Turtle Creek Chorale on Wednesday for a concert called, appropriately enough, One Night Only. (That’s also a song from Dreamgirls.)

Holliday continues to stress how going for your dreams is to be admired from young singers.

“I think it says a lot about a person that they try [a difficult song,” she says. “That’s a bar of excellence and that’s where [they] want to be. I very seldom laugh at the people who try, because their courage inspires me more. So if they think that they can arrive singing a Jennifer Holliday song, I can’t help but be flattered.”

Holliday herself pursued her dreams, much like Effie White, and it certainly paid off. The winner of a Tony Award and two Grammy Awards, Holliday has enjoyed a successful Broadway and recording career, though she admits she’s not as prolific as some other singers when it comes to albums.

“It’s a lot different for me,” she says. “I haven’t actually recorded in about 17 years. A lot of stuff people are buying online has been reproduced and put back out, so I run into people who say, ‘I bought one of your new songs on iTunes,’ and I’m like, ‘Honey, that ain’t new, but I’m glad you like it!’ I feel really fortunate for the few recordings I did make. I don’t have a lot — I only have five CDs. For people to hear that music now and still think that it’s something new, I’m grateful. People miss my voice being out there, I guess. It’s also that the people who worked on my CDs in the past put out a quality recording that has stood up to time.”

Fans no longer have to wait, thanks to two new albums dropping this year. The first, arriving next month, is a gospel music project called Goodness & Mercy she completed with her pastor, Dr. Raphael G. Warnock.

“It’s a unique kind of project in that it actually has a sermon on it from the pastor of my church, so it’s spoken word and music together,” she says.

“We collaborated on it and it’s a very hopeful CD in a sense that it’s going to really target trying to get people through some hard times, the recession and everything. Things are getting better, but I really wanted to do something that would really give people hope.”

Her second album, coming out in the summer “or fall at the latest,” returns to some classic territory.

“It’s all love songs, jazz standards,” she says. “It’s called Love is on the Way. I did cover tunes of ‘The Look of Love’ by Burt Bacharach, ‘At Last’ by Etta James, quite a few of those types of classics.”

Both albums were the result of a milestone life event last October: Turning 50.

“I was trying to think of a gift to give myself — nothing silly like diamonds or anything like that. I thought, what if I start singing again? So I went into the recording studio and the music just started pouring out to me. I think this is what I want to give myself, but hopefully give to others. I hope that they like it.”

In fact, it’s been so long since her last stint in a recording studio, she was taken aback by technology.

“I didn’t even know they didn’t use tape any more!” she laughs. “They record everything in a little box. So I have my whole future in a little tiny box that I have in a fireproof safe in my home. But I feel like my voice is better than ever, still strong and powerful and high. I guess I look at that as being most fortunate of all, that I still have my chops and that’s still intact.”

Those chops will be on display at next week’s concert with the Turtles.

“While there is no actual theme to this concert, the subtext is all about heart and soul,” explains Jonathan Palant, artistic director of the chorale. “Of course, we want to feature some of the hits from Dreamgirls, so Jennifer will perform ‘One Night Only’ and ‘I Am Changing.’ She’ll also join the Chorale for Gloria Estefan’s ‘Coming Out of the Dark’ and Bill Withers’ biggest hit, ‘Lean on Me,’ among others.”

Performing with gay men’s choruses is just one of the things that keeps Holliday busy, but turning 50 was only the beginning.

“I’m holding up, all my old stuff is being re-circulated, and thank God I’m young enough that I can still make something new.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Golden opportunity

MENOPAUSE MAYHEM | Men in drag tackle the classic TV character from ‘The Golden Girls’ in a show almost too racy to produce. (Photo by Mike Morgan)

Director B.J. Cleveland goes from kids to kink with trashy parody

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

B.J. Cleveland is gay, and in the theater, so spending every waking hour at Station 4 for the past week shouldn’t seem out of the ordinary. Only he’s having a different kind of fun from what you might expect.

“Very, very odd to be in a bar that’s deserted — it’s like being a kid in a candy store with no money,” he says with a wink. “It’s an empty bar but fully stocked, and you can’t touch a thing.”

By night for the past three weeks, Cleveland has met his cast and crew in the off-hours of the Rose Room, readying the latest camp spectacle from Uptown Players, Thank You for Being a Friend. Like the company’s two past shows in the same space — The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode and Mommie Queerest — it’s a parody of a gay fave, performed by men in drag: The Golden Girls.

Because it’s an unofficial send-up of the classic sitcom, the names have been tweaked: Rose becomes Roz, Sophia becomes Sophie, etc. But, Cleveland insists, you’ll recognize all the characters and set-ups from the series.

“It takes place in the kitchen just like on the show, until the end where it moves to Shady Pines retirement center where the girls compete against Lance Bass to win a talent contest,” Cleveland says. “It’s basically a goofy 90-minute episode: Lance Bass has moved in next door and is having wild gay orgies. The girls take him a basket of dusty muffins to convince him to keep the noise down,” but things escalate.


You won’t just recognize the Golden moments, either — this is a musical, with some original songs and alterations of Broadway standards: There’s some Dreamgirls, Chicago, Gypsy and 9 to 5 thrown in for good measure — even a spoof of Madonna’s “Vogue” video. And all played by men in dresses.

Cleveland almost didn’t do the show. He was asked by producers Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch to read the original script and offer his insights.

“It was a lot raunchier,” he says. “It went just a little too far over the line, and some stuff that really would not work,” especially in a space where TABC has strict rules about what can happen in the presence of alcohol. But a few rewrites later, Cleveland had signed on.

It’s a far cry from his current day job. In addition to his teaching gig, Cleveland is huffing and puffing his way through a Three Little Pigs play at the Dallas Children’s Theater; when he’s done there, he high-tails it to Cedar Springs and the nastiest old ladies this side of Wasilla.

“It’s a chance to blow off steam and be show-trash,” he says. “It’s like uncorking the cheap champagne at night after the children have gone to bed. This is definitely a have-a-cocktail, come-see-a-show-in-a-different-environment theater. The show doesn’t end when the curtain comes down. You’re still at a bar.”

And maybe when the show opens, he’ll get that drink after all.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Countdown to Pride continues

As of this post at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dallas’ gay Pride parade was just 100 hours away. And if we weren’t so busy trying to crank out this ginormous special issue that hits the streets Friday, we’d probably be able to feel the excitement building.

Anyhow, in case you’re wondering, the weather forecast for Sunday afternoon is holding steady: Mostly sunny, with a high of 91, a light breeze and no precipitation. A little toasty, but it could be worse. Besides, you’re not going to be wearing much anyway, right?

And speaking of letting it all hang out, here’s Wednesday’s line-up of Pride-sanctioned events from the Dallas Tavern Guild:

Pride with Miss Wanda
Dallas Woody’s
She’s a classic…Miss Wanda and her special guests.
$3.00 Amaretto Sours
11pm to 1am – No Cover
4011 Cedar Springs
Dallas, Texas 75219

Mr. Bear Round Up Contest
Round Up Saloon
Come out and see the bears in action and cheer for your favorite furry guy!
Cash prizes. No entry fees. Applications available at the front door.
9:00 pm
3912 Cedar Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75219

Little Chalupa’s Pride Karaoke
The Brick/Joe’s
$25 CASH PRIZE to best singer as voted by crowd.
9pm -1am
2525 Wycliff
Dallas, Texas 75219

Underwear Night – Wear Your Pride
Dallas Eagle
10:00 pm
5740 Maple Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75235

Shantal and Dreamgirls Show at midnight (12am)
Karaoke starts at 9pm
Drink Specials – $2 wells / $2 domestic from 9pm – 11pm
No Cover
4350 Maple Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75219

—  John Wright

Online exclusive: ‘Dreamgirls’ star Syesha Mercado talks about gay BFFs and Voice of Pride

Syesha Mercado, Dreamgirls, American IdolIf you caught Dreamgirls at Music Hall, you got the chance to see Syesha Mercado make the leap into leading lady status with her turn as Deena Jones. And if you haven’t, well this weekend is your last chance. She took some time with us to give some insight on what’s behind that voice and talent. And with her experience on American Idol as a contestant, she offered some advice to those competing in the now-happening Voice of Pride contest. You might have even seen her at one of the preliminaries.

Read it here.

—  Rich Lopez

‘Dreamgirl’ Syesha Mercado discusses her stage career and gives props to Voice of Pride

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer

This weekend is the final one for Dreamgirls, which stars former American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado as Deena Jones, the sexy (and small) singer who ousts heavy-set powerhouse Effie White as lead in the Motown band. We spoke to Mercado about her experience from just missing the top spot at American Idol to the star-turning role in this touring production. But she also filled us in on what makes her tick and how the LGBT community has big meaning in her life.

Dallas Voice: Is Dreamgirls your first theatrical venture? Mercado: I am excited to say this is my first professional theatrical project. But acting has always been a part of my life. I studied theater from secondary school to college, while working as an actress in Miami doing commercials and TV shows.

How were you cast? My agency told me about the auditions while I was on the Idol’s Live Tour and months later after the tour wrapped up I flew to New York to audition. After a long and tedious six months of callbacks and waiting, I got the call from my agent while I was in front of Radio City that I got the part.

Dreamgirls itself seems to be a springboard for American Idol alum — Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar playing Effie in the movie version. How do you think this tour will affect your career? I think it’s really a coincidence that Jennifer Hudson did the movie and I am doing the [stage] musical. Most Idols I know share the same passion for the stage and film. That’s why so many of us are in the field of theater now. I chose to take on this project because it’s always been a dream of mine to do a Broadway musical.

I’ve always seen Broadway as a completely different world and now I have the opportunity to be a part of that community. The day I accepted this part was the day this project started affecting my life. The more I do the show the more I learn about my character and myself. This tour is preparing me for the next big step in my career, it’s allowing me to grow as a performer and it can only go up from here. I look forward to all the opportunities that await.

What in you brings out Deena Jones? Deena and I share a lot of similarities. It’s a little scary how art imitates life. I am at a time in my life where I have figured out many of my wants. I am really growing up and becoming a woman. Throughout the story we see Deena coming in to her own and finding the power to break free from visions and dreams she doesn’t want for herself. She finds her peace and stands up for her passion in the end. She follows her lifelong Dream to be an entertainer. I can relate in many ways. I know this story so well it’s a little scary.

My mother’s maiden name is Jones and even though the play doesn’t show the young Deena before she auditioned at the Apollo, I know who that girl is. She is me. A shy girl, ambitious and determined to be an entertainer, to change the world, a girl who for the first part of her life grew up in the projects and faced all the struggles that came with that lifestyle, very protective mother… you can read the rest in my novel I’ll write one day. Every night the performance is different and that is the beauty of live theatre. My spirit and past experiences help bring out Deena Jones when I’m stage. This play deals with many strong messages; discrimination, betrayal, family, finding one’s self, but I absolutely love the message of dreams. I did a concert right after Idol called Follow Your Dreams. It is my main message and that is why I was so excited to take on this body of work, because it is an important story to tell. You don’t have to be in the music industry to relate to the desire to follow your dream. We all have dreams!

I read that Simon Cowell said your voice was more for the stage and now you’re doing that.  How does that make you feel and do you want a theater career or singing pop star one? Simon has said a lot of things. That was his personal opinion and being in this industry I’ve learned the most important opinion is the one I have of myself. I would like to look at that comment as a compliment that I am capable of doing more than just pop music. That week on Idol was Broadway Week, so I brought out that side of me.

I really love the stage, but I’m really excited about finally giving the world my talent and voice as an artist. I’ve really taken the time after Idol and the little time I have off-stage to build out the type of conversation that I want to have with all of my amazing fans that have been anticipating the release of my new music.

You’re 23 — still so young. What do you want to accomplish with your singing? Since I was a little I always wanted to be a singer so that I could make a difference in the world. As cliché as it sounds, that was the only reason why I really wanted to be a singer. Singing in front of crowds always made me nervous, especially since I was so shy. But I always managed to get past the nervous, because I knew that when I would sing it was the opportunity to make a difference. I wanted to motivate people to go after their dreams and aspirations and I still want to be an inspiration to others through my music and art. I want to use my fame to reach the masses and change the world! In many ways, I’ve had the opportunity to do much of that through Idol, concerts I’ve done, and through performing Dreamgirls eight to nine times a week all over the world and there is still much more to do.

My number one goal after this tour is to put out my debut album. I’ll be going back to L.A. after the tour hitting up the studio hard. I’m being patient on putting out my album until it’s at a place where it embodies all that I want to say. It’s been a very exciting and rewarding process recording and working with Grammy Award-winning songwriters and producers. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some prominent names: Diane Warren, Jud Friedman, Evan Bogart, Scott Cutler and Anne Preven (“Listen”), Reo (Beyonce’s “Hello”) Chris Rojas, and many more. I will keep everyone posted on dates and info on my website and of course my Twitter and Facebook.

How do you like acting? Are you considered a triple threat? Acting’s been a passion of mine since my first play in elementary school One Special Cookie. When I was younger I use to impersonate people and create characters in the mirror all the time. I still do this sometimes. I would even watch movies over and over again and memorize all the lines: acting out each scene like I was inside the TV screen. My family found it amusing. I was accepted into a charter middle school and that gave me the chance to take on every aspect of the arts from ballet to piano. You couldn’t leave Manatee School for the Arts without being considered a triple threat. We had to learn it all. I also went on to a Theatre Visual Performing Arts Program at Booker High and I studied theatre as my major in high school.

Whose career do you look up to? Every artist or entertainer out now is constantly evolving and figuring out the next big thing for themselves, just like me. There is no limit to the height you can reach in the industry. There will always be more to accomplish and pursue. However, in order for me to look up to someone they have to embody a humble spirit as well. That being said, Jennifer Hudson is someone I admire. She’s an Idol alum who didn’t win, but has had much success in her career all through hard work and perseverance. I had the opportunity to meet her before Dreamgirls opened up at the Apollo and she was so humble, kind and down to earth. I admire her strength and her determination, despite the obstacles she’s faced she is still standing tall. She has a touching story and is the perfect example of what can happen when you follow your dreams. Those are the type of people I look up to.

I also admire the sweet and humble Fantasia for her ability to get through all of life’s adversities and come out strong. Alicia Keys has been my idol since the day one saw her performing her music video “Fallin’.” That was my anthem and audition song for years. She really has impressed me with all of her music accomplishments and not to mention she has made her way to the silver screen just like Deena Jones wanted to do and just like I’m going to do. Lady Gaga and Beyonce I look up to as well, because they are strong, smart business women who know what they want and they’ve gone after it and made it happen; clothing lines, thinking out of the box, movies, awards — hard working women.

Dreamgirls appeals hugely to a gay audience. Are you ready for a whole new slew of gay fans discovering you and then possibly doing drag to your performances? Oh I am sooooo ready. The more the merrier.

We have a sort of American Idol-esque contest going on right now called Voice of Pride. It stems from the gay community but doesn’t discriminate against anyone competing. Winners perform at our Pride festival and the solo singing winner will go to Manchester, England for Pride to perform. The level of fame after the contest is different than post-American Idol, but what advice would you give these budding singers looking for their big chance in this contest? First of all, that is wonderful! My advice to everyone participating would be to pick a song that makes them feel fierce or something that just resonates well with them. Regardless if it’s a ballad or up-tempo pick a song that lets you command the stage. Know what your singing and doing onstage. The more prepared you are with the material the more confident you’ll feel and the easier the process will be. You can’t have fun if you are worried or unsure about what you are doing so be prepared! Success is when preparation meets opportunity.

I’m gonna back you into a corner now. Do you think you’d stop by to watch while you’re in town? Of course, I would love to if I’m not busy. I performed at two Pride events before (L.A. Pride and Chicago Pride). There is nothing like the support, loyalty and love that LGBT’s show. They always know how to show up and show out. Love it! I am a huge supporter of the gay community myself. I recently was part of the NOH8 Campaign. It was great to see so many celebrities standing up for LGBT rights. Growing up, I saw first-hand the discrimination my friends faced, because of the indifference and prejudices of people who just were ignorant to change. This is why I support Pride week and NOH8, because I want to be a voice for those who are afraid to speak out and be who they are. I want them to know it’s OK to be you and proud of it. Be who you are and love whom you want to love, because at the end of the day you have to look in the mirror at yourself and be happy with what you see.

Do you have a gay BFF? If so, how does he/she participate in your life differently than non-gay friends? Oh yes, many. My BFF lives in Cali. We both moved there after I wrapped up the Idol’s Live Tour. We have been friends since high school. We were in the same theater program and have had the pleasure to act side by side in leading roles. He was my Daniel in Once on This Island and I was his Ti’moune. He has been the most loyal of all my friends. When I need him, he is always there. He was in the audience at my Idol shows and most recently there for me during my audition process for Dreamgirls encouraging me every step of the way. I also have a very special friend who was first a fan and he started my Syesha Fanesha’s Fan Club back in my Idol days, which is now Syesha Nation. I am so proud of him, because he recently just came out. He is a big supporter of mine as well. Not to mention when I play him some of my demos he helps me pick out the fierce ones that the gay boys would love.

Dreamgirls at Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 First St. Through Sunday. Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m. Weekend matinees at 2 p.m. $15–$65.

—  Rich Lopez

From my hate mail inbox

I received the following e-mail from a devoted reader:

Just read your review of “Dreamgirls” in last friday’s (9.7.2010) edition of The Dallas Voice.  You must be another one of those smug University of North Texass alums.  The reason Lupe Murchison endowed that school was, and I quote her verbatim : “Those poor kids will need ALL the help that they can get; truly a sad, sad situation there.”  She was a close personal friend of my godmother, Edith O’Donnell so I DO KNOW, first ‘ear,’ from whence I speak.

If you had even bothered to do your home work, Mr. Arnold-Wayne Jones,  you would’ve known that they had a slate of RAVE REVIEWS from their performances at The Apollo Theatre in NYC. Inclusive of  The NY Times.  They are also the same cast/troupe that took the stage in a tour-de-force in South Korea; quite impressing their audiences and critics with their voices and diction in NATIVE KOREAN.

I strongly suggest that you ‘hitch’ your faded and tarnished star BACK to that connestoga and try to find a better acadaemic venue from which you can truly garner the concepts of good theatre …



Allow me to respond, Cal.

First, I did not in fact graduate from UNT, but rather with distinction from the University of Virginia. Then from its law school. Cal, on the other hand, misspells “Texas” as “Texass,” misuses the term “whence” (it does not take the word “from;” it implies it), and parts with “Cheerios,” which is a cereal; he perhaps means cheerio, which is a salutation. He also misspells my name, adding a hyphen where it doesn’t belong.

Second, I get letters like this all the time. The ones that are least persuasive are the ones that point out that this play, or this star, or this company, got a rave review in another town. How could that possibly matter to me? I’ve seen plenty of shitty productions of good plays; plenty of good actors who give bad performances, and seen more terrible art that others cream over than I can possibly imagine. The Passion of the Christ made $300 million; that doesn’t mean it was good.

You have a complaint with me, fine. Engage me. But name-calling? And, at that, against a school I have no connection to? That doesn’t insult me, just the school. The University of Virginia also produced smug bastards, though it wasn’t founded by Lupe Murchison — it was founded by Thomas Jefferson.

I’m confident of my theater-going credentials and my judgment. Anyway, I pretty much liked the production of Dreamgirls, save for Syesha Mercado’s limp vocal performance and flaws in the script. My full review is here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Dream’ on

A true Broadway opera, the national tour of ‘Dreamgirls’ rocks

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor

The Dreamettes
AND I’M TELLING YOU, I’M GOING | The Dreamettes climb the pop charts on the back of a former member in the Supremes fantasy ‘Dreamgirls.’

Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave. Through July 18. $30–$85.

It’s odd that when we talk about modern opera, no one ever mentions Dreamgirls, the 1981 musical that fictionalizes the emergence of Motown. It’s got all the elements of genuine opera: Bigger than life and deeply flawed characters, extreme highs and lows, important themes and soaring music. It’s tragedy with a happy ending and a funky, constant R&B soundtrack.

Of course, the gays have always known that Dreamgirls had the cred; the Act 1 closing number “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” has been a drag anthem almost since the original production made Jennifer Holliday a star. But the show, like opera itself, can be problematic: The leading character, powerhouse plus-size singer Effie (Moya Angela), is passed over in favor of the sweet-voiced, prettier Deena (Syesha Mercado). But Effie is also a pill and a prima donna — is it all about talent or does attitude matter?

The touring show at Fair Park Music Hall doesn’t do much to illuminate these complexities, but this non-Equity production benefits immensely from Angela, some fabulous costumes and a minimal set punctuated by a giant Jumbotron of a video wall that adds a sense of contemporary flashiness.

Even all those positives are outshone, though, by Chester Gregory. As Jimmy Thunder Early — a high-energy mélange of James Brown and Little Richard — Gregory is smooth and predatory, and he’s got the moves and the voice to electrify an audience. The show is his.

Too bad Chaz Lamar Shepard as Curtis barely registers. He’s sleazy as the Berry Gordy like manipulator, but there’s no personality. Mercado also falters. The title song needs to establish the new Dreams as a potent girl group, but on press night, Mercado sounded like she was at 50 percent. Still, former America Idol star gets top billing. It’s as if talent doesn’t matter as much as surface appearance.
Sounds familiar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens