I have to admit something I am not very proud of. When I first learned that the Signature Theatre was doing a production of Dreamgirls, my first thought was, “that’s a bold move. What can they do to make such a beloved and well known show fresh and exciting after it’s been so overdone (in my opinion) over the years?” When my editor was looking for writers to cover the show, I quickly jumped on the opportunity and I am happy to say that I was completely wrong about the show. The players of the Signature Theatre made me fall in love with Dreamgirls all over again.
In a word, the production is magnificent! From the stage settings to the beautifully and exquisitely designed gowns worn by The Dreams, and of course all of the wonderful music in between, I was fully engaged from the first note to the last curtain call.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Dreamgirls chronicles the career of Effie White, portrayed by the fabulous Nova Y. Payton, the talented and headstrong lead singer of The Dreams, along with her childhood friends Deena Jones (Shayla Simmons) and Lorrell Robinson (Crystal Joy). The story explores the trials and triumphs associated with seeking superstardom. The productions also delves deep into the struggles of the 1960’s black entertainers to break into the white dominated music industry while remaining true to their roots in soulful rhythm and blues.
Ms. Payton portrays Effie with an emotionally raw and vulnerable intensity. When she sings “Move (You’re Steppin’ On My Heart),” you know she is singing from experience. Effie is a woman whose body and soul are committed to love. It was a foregone conclusion that she would fall hard for Sydney James Harcourt’s handsome and equally slick Curtis Taylor, Jr., who knows exactly what it would take to melt her tough as nails exterior to reveal the yearning inside her. The chemistry between the two was undeniable, so much so, that when she later coos, “I just love a man with beautiful eyes,” your knees go weak at the sight of him right along with hers. That’s what made it so heartbreaking at the conclusion of the First Act when Effie sang “(And I Am Telling You) I’m Not Going.” She does not want to give up on the love of her life, no matter how painful it has become. Effie is a woman obsessed, but not in a fanatical sense. She simply does not concede her will and that becomes her undoing. Ms. Payton’s rendition brought thunderous applause from all in the audience and I, for one, could barely contain my emotions. I wanted to scream, “Don’t leave her! She loves you!” Yes, I was that invested.
Every song, performance, and actor was so terrific that it is difficult to single out any one element of the production that makes the show a must see. If pressed, I would say Cedric Neal’s performance brings the house down. Mr. Neal’s Jimmy “James Thunder” Early was a pure delight. The consummate ladies’ man, with a voice like velvet and moves that made women fall at his feet, his energy and magnetism was intoxicating. I could not get enough of him and I was not alone. His dancing and vocals elicited so many whoops and hollers that I thought we would all need a moment to collect ourselves.
Thank you Signature Theatre for making this jaded Dreamgirls fan into a true believer! You can experience more of “Dreamgirls” now through January 13, 2013 in the MAX Theatre.
WHEN: Now showing through January 13, 2013. Performances run Tuesday through Sunday evenings, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
The Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue
Arlington, VA 22206
Start at $40. Single tickets are available in person at the Signature Box Office at 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington, or by calling Ticketmaster at703-573-SEAT. Student discount tickets are $30 and must be purchased the week of the performance. For groups/subscriptions call 703-820-9771.