‘Dreamgirls’ musical from 2nd Star Productions is a fun one

Though challenged by technical issues, the performers all do an excellent job telling their characters’ stories.

When the technical, creative design, and performance talent of a show work well together, the stories we share in theater can be engaging and fulfilling. When one or more of these elements seems to challenge or fight against the other parts, the story of a show becomes secondary. In this production of Dreamgirls from 2nd Star Productions, the technical struggles almost completely overshadowed an extremely talented cast, and it was a disappointment to watch the cast fight through technical obstacles that impeded or distracted from the story being told.

Dreamgirls first dazzled audiences on Broadway in 1981, with revivals in 1987, 2001, and 2016. The show was created by composer Henry Krieger and lyricist/librettist Tom Eyen. Inspired by the history of Motown and groups such as The Supremes, Dreamgirls follows the rise of a fictional girl group, the Dreams, from obscurity to stardom. The show was adapted into a movie in 2006, with Anika Noni Rose, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Hudson in the lead roles. Hudson would go on to win an Academy Award for her performance.

The Dreams: Rowan Campbell as Michelle, Ashley Lyles as Deena, Kayla Adams as Effie, and Karla Maiden-Vazquez as Lorrell in ‘Dreamgirls.’ Photo by Nate Jackson Photography.

It’s an excellent musical for a community theater to perform. It can be produced with a big cast, simple staging, and minimal technical requirements. However, the music and vocals are exceptionally challenging (I did write Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé above). And this cast meets the challenge of those vocals.

At the heart of this production is Kayla Adams, who embodies Effie White with a vocal prowess that is nothing short of extraordinary. A graduate of Bowie State, Adams commands the stage with a voice that soars effortlessly through the show’s demanding score. Her rendition of “(And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going” is a standout, filled with raw emotion and power.

Ryan Holmes delivers a show-stealing performance as Jimmy “James Thunder” Early, infusing the role with charisma and humor. His interaction with the audience, coupled with his dynamic vocals, brought a palpable sense of fun to the production. At our performance, he called out the audience, and the infant babbling next to our seat, in the most delightful way.

Ashley Lyles shines as Deena Jones, portraying her transition from an earnest and wide-eyed young singer to a mature, glamorous star with finesse. Lyles’ performance captures the essence of Deena’s character arc, highlighting both her vulnerability and her growing confidence. Her vocals are smooth and captivating, fitting perfectly into the show’s dynamic.

Karla Maiden-Vazquez as Lorrell Robinson provided a delightful complement to the trio, bringing both humor and heart to her role. Her relationship with Early is one of the standout heartfelt moments of the play, and sadly that’s partially because it was one of the few moments where the technical issues didn’t overshadow the performances or the dialogue.

There is plenty I could say to compliment this huge cast. They all did an excellent job telling these characters’ stories.

TOP LEFT: Ira Coats Jr., MarQuis Fair, Snowdenn Jackson, Kelly Canady, Kassandra ‘Kasey’ Norman, Tanisha Ferguson; TOP RIGHT: Ira Coats Jr., Derrick Buie, Otega Okurume, Ryan Holmes; ABOVE: Jae Damauier, Bryan Hargraves, Creedence Jackson, Jo Monplaisir, Byron Brown, Anthony (Dee) Davis, Makayla Davis, Erica Felder, Kelly Canady, Amaya Shannon, Derrick Buie, Tanisha Ferguson, Kassandra ‘Kasey’ Norman, Damien Suttles, Rowan Campbell, Otega Okurume, in ‘Dreamgirls.’ Photos by Nate Jackson Photography.

Unfortunately, issues with the sound and mic systems resulted in most lines sounding tinny at best and unintelligible at key moments of the play. One of the front speakers at the Bowie Playhouse seemed to be blown out, but given that the volume was also inconsistent (and only some of the cast had microphones), human error or inattention also seemed to be a culprit.

There were some baffling directing and staging choices as well. This was a massive cast of over 20 people in a small theater. At times, the staging felt crowded, and the choreography unfocused, due to the cramped dancing area. At one point a table is set downstage becoming a visual barrier between the audience and the action. In a cast that size, it made little sense to me to use a stagehand (with a prominent bib labeling them as “Crew”) to move the set pieces. The most egregious example of this occurred when said stagehand comes on during Effie’s powerful “One Night Only” to move the mic two feet.

The costume design by Quentin Nash Sagers, however, was exceptional. His work showcased a progressive and cohesive story that amplified the work being done by the cast, starting the narrative with ill-fitting and drab dresses and advancing to glamorous designs and outstanding suits as the characters became more successful.

All in all, this production is a fun one to watch, especially if you have a connection to this community group. The work from the cast is something to be celebrated and encouraged. I just hope that the technical elements are fixed and do the cast justice for the remainder of the run.

Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Dreamgirls plays through July 21, 2024, presented by 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Pk Dr in Bowie, MD. For tickets ($25 general admission; $22 for seniors 60+, active military, and students; $15 for children under 12), buy them at the door or purchase them online.

The cast and production team for Dreamgirls are online here (scroll down).

Book & Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by Henry Krieger
Directed and choreographed by Rikki Howie Lacewell

Note about the Dreamgirls sound quality from Lauren Jackson Sayles, Marketing Director, 2nd Star Productions, June 3, 2024:

We appreciate the glowing words about our wonderful cast and crew — they really are all top notch and we are so proud of the work they have put into our show.

We are also aware of the issues with the microphones and are working hard to fix them.  Friday night was literally the first night ever in the history of 2nd Star that we have used mics. We have had so many issues with sound over the years, the absence of body mics in particular, that we felt this was an experiment worth pursuing. This production is particularly challenging because of the frequent need of the featured cast to be heard over the large ensemble and orchestra. This is a learning experience for us and we are hoping to improve the sound quality as we adapt to how this new technology interacts with our performers and our space. […] It would be a shame for potential audience members to miss these gifted performers due to something that we hope is only a temporary shortcoming.


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