‘Dreamgirls’ at The Lyric Opera House by Amanda Gunther

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It’ll feel like one night only when the magnificent Dreams pop into town singing their hearts out up on that stage. And if you’ve never seen a musical about struggle and triumph through adversity this is the one for you. The Lyric Opera House in conjunction with Big League Productions, Inc. proudly presents the six Tony Award-winning musical Dreamgirls. Directed and choreographed on the road by Robert Longbottom, this magical musical takes us back to the 1960’s with a promising new trio of singers. Follow their journey from nowheresville Chicago right up to their big time break in New York City and beyond. An incredibly powerful heartfelt musical, this one is sure to bring a tear to your eyes as well as bring you to your feet in thunderous applause.

Photo Credit: Showtime Management, SA.
Photo Credit: Showtime Management, SA.

The Design Team, featuring Lights by Ken Billington and Media Projections by Lightswitch’s Howard Werner, work together to create an amazing experience using very little stage furnishings while maintaining the integrity of the show’s glitzy glam nature. Projecting the audience of the three-tiered Apollo Theatre onto the backdrop creates the magnificent illusion that we the audience are glimpsing backstage when the performers face us. The overall light spectacle designed by Billington lets you live the shocking and thrilling sensations of each debut moment in the girls’ lives. Together this team of media and light wizards bring a level of enchanting spectacle that enhance the performance tenfold.

Costumer William Ivey Long gives the show added sparkle and flare with his wild designs. Effie always looks fabulous in her quick change costumes that go from simple in the recording studio to dazzling on stage with the shimmy of a string. Long’s ability to craft multi-layer costumes for ease of on-stage switching, like the three different outfits that pop one after another during the Dreams performance sequence late in Act II, is astonishing. To have such flash and flare and still be fully functional is an impressive feat. All the gowns glitter and really emphasize the beauty of the women wearing them. And the piercing suits used for every male role in the production adds a level of polish and class to the performance.

Robert Longbottom’s choreography is sharp and crisp with a slick and flashy edge to the perfectly synchronized moves. Numbers like “Goin’ Downtown” and “Got to Be Good Times” feature ensemble dancers flawlessly executing poignant dance moves that speak volumes for the music of the time. Longbottom really revs up the engines for “Steppin’ To The Bad Side” with silhouette and shadow projection dancers mingling with the on stage dancers to give it an extra slap of pizzazz. Overall Longbottom’s choreography really pumps this show up to its full potential.

Powerful voices are plentiful in this performance. The members of the ensemble, particularly the males, provide rich full forced back-up during numbers like “Party, Party” and “Cadillac Car.” The voices are not only strong but they’re clear and well understood, making every song a smash hit.

The show is chock full of personalities and quirky characters, each one being more unique and special than the last. The men seem to really drive the action of the production during key moments, Mary (Kolby Kindle) being a rough but fierce man of the business. When juxtaposed against Curtis Taylor Jr. (at this performance Dave Heard) the pair buck heads like fireworks on Independence Day. Heard plays the smooth talking fast operator type with a chip on his shoulder and determination to change the world. While he leads a good few of the male ensemble numbers his moment to shine is his duet with Deena “You Are My Dream.” And for just a moment inside of this song we see a human being in Heard’s performance, rather than the cold monstrous maniac he’s become.

C.C. (Terrance Johnson) is the exact opposite of the hot-headed Curtis. He has huge aspirations with dreams in his eyes, twinkling like stars when he sings as he sees his whole future of writing songs for a big star coming true. His heart-breaking duet with Effie “I Miss You Old Friend” radiates a bittersweet moment of reconciliation out to the audience with pure soul.

But the real soul takes shape in the form of mister James “Thunder” Early (Michael Jahlil). With my funk than the entire decade of the 70’s, Jahlil’s performance as Jimmy is uproarious and jaw-dropping. He make his presence known full force every time he steps out onto the stage and his physical shenanigans during his musical routines, especially during his “Jimmy Got Soul” bit midway through Act II, are riotous. With a unique scratchy sound that gives him that extra sharp razor cut edge, Jahlil wows the audience with every pelvic thrust, and magic magnetic moment with Lorrell.

The Dreams are a powerhouse of sound, a vocal force to be reckoned with. Featuring Lorrell (Tonyia Myrie Rue), Deena (Jasmin Richardson), and Effie (at this performance Lydia Warr) the girls easily belt through to the rafters to bring the house down. Rue uses a squeaky shriek in her voice to establish her character and she often comes off as comic, which works well for the relationship she establishes with Jimmy. Her flirty and funny attitude come grinding to a halt, however, when she’s finally fed up enough to put the player in his place with “Ain’t No Party,” and she becomes a fierce female who won’t be messing around anymore.

Richardson’s approach to Deena makes her quite the versatile character. At first subdued and complacent in her role as backup to Effie when the tables start turning we get a glimpse of her inner diva. But as quickly as we see that side of Deena is as quickly as it melts away into someone who wants more, in this case to be in movies. Her powerful voice is easily recognized in ensemble numbers and she shines in “What Love Can Do.” Both Richardson and Rue really bring a tenacious vocal effort to “Heavy” and “It’s All Over” when things really heat up between them and Effie. Richardson is an outstanding performer and well suited for the role of Deena.

The vocal sensation of the show comes from Effie (at this performance Lydia Warr). With a voice that could literally blow the roof off the opera house, Warr pours emotions into everything she sings. Her stage presence from the moment we meet her is intense; a diva through and through. But she quickly gets pushed down the ladder for her attitude, despite her incredible talent. Her rendition of “I’m Changing” is stunning, a heartfelt, soulful outcry of how she’s making life better for herself. And her duets with both Deena and C.C. allow her to bring a tremendous amount of emotional turmoil to the surface through song. But the moment that everyone will remember, the song that brought the audience to their feet in a thunderous standing ovation is “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Such a powerhouse piece where Warr belts with ever fiber of her being as her world comes shattering down around her; truly sensational.

These Dreams won’t hang around long so be sure to pay them a visit before they drift away!

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Dreamgirls plays three performances through May 5, 2013 at The Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric Opera House — 110 W. Mount Royale Avenue in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 900-1150, or purchase them online.

To see what’s next to take the stage at The Lyric Opera House, visit their website.

To see where Dreamgirls is headed next visit the Dreamgirls tour site