Dreamgirls, directed by Kelly Chauncey, is the dreamy kick-off to the BlackRock Center for the Arts’ new effort to fully produce their own professional productions. Marking its 20th anniversary, the Germantown-based arts center is moving from a touring house with this musical, and Chauncey and Katie Hecklinger, CEO of BlackRock Center for the Arts, picked a hitmaker with Dreamgirls. This production showcases new and established talent from the DC area as well as the artistic possibilities for BlackRock Center for the Arts as a producing venue.
Dreamgirls, inspired by the Motown and R&B legends of the 1960s and 1970s, follows three female singers as they strive to break into the music business that is determined to keep them either backup singers or beholden to misogynistic managers. Put aside any bias toward the award-winning 2006 Bill Condon-written-and-directed movie starring the blockbuster cast of Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jaime Foxx, and Danny Glover, or any memories of the 1980s Broadway musical, and come to this BlackRock production eager to experience fresh voices, raw energy, and ambition.
The heart and soul of Dreamgirls is the lead singer Effie White—and in the role of Effie White, Jasmine Prather is the heart, soul, and voice (what a voice!) of the Dreamettes. This is the name bestowed on the trio by their dominating manager played by Tyrone Lyles Sr., who smoothly conveyed the sleaze and ease of a music industry thriving on payola and imitation.
Rounding out the Dreamettes, Azaria Oglesby as Deena Jones and Myiah Miller as Lorelle Robinson added style and verve if not quite the expansive voice of Jasmine Prather. Local theatergoers should watch for Myiah Miller—this rising talent is currently a student at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Maryland.
One of the standout numbers, “Steppin’ to the Bad Side,” put the musical ambitions of the singers out front along with the dynamic choreography of Ronnique Antoinette—and truly showed what the performers could accomplish. Some of the most emotionally moving numbers were the solo, soulful ballads by Effie including “And I’m Not Telling You I’m Going” as she prepares to break from the trio, and “I Am Changing” at the beginning of Act II. The other artists in Dreamgirls included Isaac Lamar as Effie’s brother, Edwin Sherrif as Marty, and Howard Lee as Tiny Joe Dixon/Jerry Norman—all performing with style, especially in ensemble numbers such as “One Night Only.”
The minimalistic production featured an on-stage quartet led by Julian E. Spires that rose above a less-than-optimal saxophonist/flutist, and a budget-friendly video backdrop that signaled the locations ranging from the famed Apollo Theater to Miami, Cleveland, and New York City. What was more—and absolutely fabulous—was the costuming by Trena Elise. The dresses—matching chiffon, glittering, sequined, sexy selections—lit up the stage, especially during the performance and reprise of “Dreamgirls,” the title song. However, the fabulous costumes were worn not only by the trio of Dreamettes but also by James “Thunder” Early, played to the hilt with tremendous stage presence by Silas Holloway, conjuring up the great R&B artists of the past and making the role his own. His musical numbers, including “The Rap” and “The Firing of Jimmy,” brought down the house.
One last note, this production of Dreamgirls has two casts, “purple” and “blue,” with one becoming the ensemble for the other on alternating performances. This review reflects the purple cast in the leads. However, with the sure hand of Artistic Director Kelly Chauncey and the artistic talent behind the production, I suspect that no matter the leads, the BlackRock Center for the Arts production of Dreamgirls is a dream come true for the musical theater lover.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Dreamgirls program is downloadable here.
COVID Safety: It is highly encouraged that all visitors wear a mask. See BlackRock’s Safety Measures.