Written by Mike Martin
Let me get a few things out-of-the-way…
Dreamgirls is a script that runs a bit long and does tend to show its age.
Lyrically the score is a bit one note and juvenile.
This production had some sound hiccups when I attended.
Now that the unpleasantness is out-of-the-way, let me say that this production of Dreamgirls is an absolute treat. This is a production that not only makes one pine wistfully for the big, spectacle shows of the 80’s in its staging, but showcases talent that transcends the very limitations I mentioned above. Masterful choreography and direction keep the pace moving and fluid, and technically (other than the sound issues mentioned above) the production value is top-notch. If you haven’t been to La Mirada (or it’s been a FEW years as in my case), do yourself a favor and see some big shows done right. While I applaud the efforts of smaller theatres, even I am capable of forgetting what a great night of theatre can be with a bit of a budget behind it. As in most of my reviews, I won’t bore you with a synopsis of the plot. We have the internet now. In brief, however: It is literally EVERY musical biopic or “Behind the Music” you have ever seen. You can see the plot coming down Main Street in a cab. Shady managers, rifts between the stars, one last reconciliation… Check, check, and check. You’ve seen this one before. It is however these very hackneyed tropes that serve to illustrate the talent on display.
First, if you know Dreamgirls – you know this show begins and ends with Effie Melody White. Chances are if you know any songs from this musical – Effie sings them. In this production La Mirada is graced by the talents of Moya Angela. Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Etta James… Moya Angela. The girl can sing. But that’s like saying a cheetah can run. Moya Angela has a voice that is capable of shaking you to your very core with its power in one moment, but also possesses subtlety and pathos when needed. Couple this with Angela’s gifts as an actress and dancer, and you have admission covered. Spectacular.
My personal favorite of the show is the performance turned in by David LaMarr as James “Thunder” Early. LaMarr channels James Brown as the part demands… But flavors it with a bit of Morris Day. A true triple threat, LaMarr steals literally every scene he’s in. His contribution to the show is made clear by his absences. Once he leaves the stage for good, the rest of the show loses a bit of spark.
Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other two dreams. Jasmin Richardson is sneaky great as Deena Jones (our Diana Ross stand in for the evening). She starts very much in the shadow of events but grows in strength and conviction until the titanic “Listen” where she matches Moya Angela note for note and tear for tear.
As “The Other One” Brittney Johnson is a delight in the role of Lorell Robinson. She wisely gets out-of-the-way when the stars collide, but her “relationship” with Jimmy Early creates a compelling side story that often gets short shrift when less capable actors handle the role. More than any of the Dreams, I found myself rooting for Lorell more often than not. It’s a testament to Johnson’s performance.
With all of that in mind, I encourage you to pay a little extra scratch (but not much) to see this excellent show. I can almost guarantee: You won’t see Dreamgirls done this well in a LONG time.
March 25 – April 17
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