A true Broadway opera, the national tour of ‘Dreamgirls’ rocks
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave. Through July 18. $30–$85. DallasSummerMusicals.org.
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.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.