You can refer to Virginia Rep’s production of Dreamgirls as a flashy extravaganza, a musical feat, or a design wonder. Or you can simply call it what it is: a blockbuster hit that thoroughly entertains from beginning to end.
The show, loosely based on the career of Diana Ross and the Supremes, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the musical industry. It tells the tale of a black female trio – The Dreams starring Effie, Deena, and Lorrell — with the desire and the ability to rise to fame. But each of the women learns far too soon that there is a price to pay for that fame.
Director Chase Kniffen has pulled together a dream cast (no pun intended) for this production that reunites several actors that starred in Virginia Rep’s production of The Color Purple. Under Kniffen’s supple direction, the large cast moves like an effortless wave across the stage in an array of ever-changing scenes and scenarios.
The flow of this show, especially during the first act, is fast and jam-packed. The pace slows in act two to a deliberate speed, giving you time to savor the music and the action. On opening night, there were some minor inconsistencies in a couple of dance numbers in act one but they smoothed out in act two.
The cast of this show is top-notch, from ensemble to leads. The show is full of powerhouse singers with the ability to shatter the roof if they so desired. As reviews go, there is not enough space to single out every great performance, but there were several that need to be highlighted.
Durron Tyre, who plays Effie’s songwriting brother, and Katrinah Carol Lewis, who takes on the role of the fourth member of the Dreams, show off their vocal chops and their keen acting ability.
Jerome Wells has a blast with the role of James Thunder Early – think James Brown. His superb over-the-top performance will bring you to your feet and his unending energy and enthusiasm will have you smiling.
Jerold Solomon brings a commanding vocal performance and a boatload of talent to the role of the self-serving Dreams’ manager, Curtis Taylor Jr. His forceful characterization is spot on.
Felicia Curry as the youngest member of the Dreams, Lorrell, is a petite dynamo that knows how to wrap an audience around her finger. She has a big, beautiful voice and a sensational presence on stage.
Zuri Washington takes on the role of Deena – think Diana Ross – with confidence and pizazz. Another powerful singer, Washington shows us that Deena’s heart is much bigger than her desire to be a solo star.
Desirée Roots shines in the role of Effie, the founder of the Dreams who faces the most challenges in her career as well as her personal life. Roots brings sincerity to the role that speaks to experience and understanding. Her dynamic vocals bring down the house, whether she’s belting out a song, in this case THE song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” or slowing the tempo for a soulful ballad.
Ron Keller has outdone himself with set design for this production. Glitzy, glamorous and always on the move the set meshes the sparkling boldness of the 1970s with today’s technology.
Sarah Grady’s costumes – and there are hundreds of them – paint the picture perfectly. The gowns that adorn the Dreams are downright fantastic.
Joe Doran’s lighting adds yet another layer to this production that complements the emotions and action on stage. Doran knows when to add energy and when to tone down the mood.
Dreamgirls hits all the right notes and all your emotions. It’s dynamic. It’s energetic. It’s a powerhouse of talent, and a must-see this summer. Recommended for about twelve and up. The show runs through August 7 at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre. For showtimes, tickets, and information about group discounts, visit Virginia Rep.
Enter to win a family 4-pack of tickets to Dreamgirls here.