In a triumphant return to in-person performances, BSU (Bowie State University) Theatre’s Dreamgirls brought equal parts soul, power, and drama to its delighted opening night audience in its state-of-the-art, 400-seat Main Stage Theatre. This smashing musical was co-directed by Elena Velasco and Raven Wilkes, and its music was directed by Josh Sommerville. With its tale of a star-crossed love triangle and iconic songs such as “And I Am Telling You,” this show is an amazing crowd-pleaser.
Dreamgirls — with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen — is based on the story of Motown’s The Supremes. It follows the rise of three Black female singers as they try to make it in the music business through mountain highs and heartbreak lows.
This show presents three outstanding leads. The Dreamettes were composed of Kaitlyn McGhee as Effie Melody White (Kayla Adams will play Effie in the Friday and Saturday evening performances), Kamri Johnson as Deena Jones, and Brielle Bertrand as Lorrell Robinson. Each of these actors brought a unique and wondrous stamp to their roles.
With legendary talents such as Jennifer Holliday, Loretta Divine, and Sheryl Lee Ralph in the original 1981 Broadway production, and Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce in the 2006 film version, there is a golden tradition of Black female talent in Dreamgirls’ lineage.
The other major players provided a fruitful foundation for the three leads to play with. Daniel Young channeled a touch of R&B singer James Brown — always handy (and hands-on) with the ladies — in his depiction of James “Thunder” Early. Grace Pugh effectively inhabited the male role of the all-business Marty, Early’s manager. Kristopher Harris played C.C. (Clarence Cornel) White, Effie’s brother, and Raymond Ingram played The Dreamettes’ manager, Curtis Taylor Jr., with panache.
In this fictionalized telling of The Supremes’ background, the Chicago-based Dreamettes’ journey to stardom was born of a lost singing competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, whereupon they met their soon-to-be manager, Curtis Taylor Jr. (Ingram).
Curtis hatched a scheme to have The Dreamettes become backup singers to Early, and then Curtis switched things around by having Jimmy aim for pop stardom. To that end, C.C. composed “Cadillac Car” for Jimmy and The Dreamettes, who toured with the song “Cadillac Car (On the Road).” McGhee, Johnson, and Bertrand brought verve and passion to that tune.
In real life, The Supremes’ Florence Ballard was replaced by Sidney Birdsong, and in this show, Effie was replaced by fictional Michelle Morris. Angelique Sterling’s Morris made a grand entrance to the stage through the audience house left, and she brought elegance to every scene she was in.
This musical is known for “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Any rendition of this song has to be not merely good but great. The song has to be sung with the angst of a woman facing career and personal turmoil. With every fiber of her being, McGhee pulled it (and even her wig) off in lavish style.
Act Two brought the newly named The Dreams into the ’70s and saw them become the most popular girl group in the country. Curtis and Deena had tied the knot, and C.C. was in a passionate relationship with Michelle. The sadsack Effie was back in Chicago, a single mother to Magic, her daughter. Ingram and Johnson as Curtis and Deena (fictionalized versions of Motown Records Founder Berry Gordy Jr. and Diana Ross) gave us the beautiful duet “You Are My Dream.”
Pugh, as Marty, pleaded with Effie to make a comeback with the emotional “I Am Changing.” Young’s rendition of “The Rap” was funny funk. The Dreams’ “One Night Only” with Effie’s support was high-powered and passionate.
Asjah Johnson brought energy to her roles as an MC and announcer. Evan Hoffman sarcastically portrayed Dave of Dave and the Sweethearts, a white singer who covered “Cadillac Car (On the Road)” à la singer Pat Boone.
Bria Mukes served as Dance Captain and played Mrs. Morgan. Stage Manager Keilyn Cook was also part of the Ensemble. Other notable members of the Ensemble were Kennedy Howard, Aniyah Clarke, Trinity Cephas, and Dawn Belton.
Glittering gowns, lavender suits, shape-hugging dresses — the flashy and bold fashions of the ’60s and ’70s came to life in the impressive costume design of Imari Pyles. Another style element of the show’s time period was hair; Shalom Omo-Osagie certainly brought the glitter and glam with her wig design. The wigs brought personality and flattering face shape to each of the female leads, and a James Brown aura to Mr. Young.
The cast moved with beautiful synchronicity in numbers such as “Ain’t No Party” thanks to Co-Director/Choreographer Raven Lorraine. Sommerville’s musical direction was strong but at times the music and the musicians — house center-left and audience-visible — drowned out some of the on-stage vocals. The Apollo Theater’s marquee came to life in 3D, from the curtains, thanks to Jeremy Bennett Projections Design.
BSU Theatre’s Dreamgirls is a jewel of a show. You’ll get more value than the ticket price, so make sure you go see it.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Dreamgirls runs April 21 to 23, 2022, at 7:30 pm and April 22 to 23 at 2:30 pm at Bowie State University’s Fine & Performing Arts Center, Main Stage Theater, 14000 Jericho Park Road, Bowie, MD. For tickets ($10), call (301) 860-4000, or purchase them online.
The program for Dreamgirls is online here.
COVID Safety: BSU Theatre and the Department of Fine and Performing Arts require proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test for all audience members attending. Please note that masks are recommended.
Celebrating Black femme vision in ‘Dreamgirls’ at Bowie State University (feature by Elena Velasco and BSU Theatre faculty)