The song is right, so to speak: and they’re telling us they’re not going. That’s the cast of the new theatrical version of “Dreamgirls.” which opened last night at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater with thunderous applause, standing ovations, and the beginning of a new life on the circuit.
This “Dreamgirls” plays the Apollo until mid December, then hits the road on the national tour. But from the reaction last night, the producers had better get a Broadway theater and move in before the Tony deadline of April 29, 2010. The revival of Michael Bennett’s “Supremes”-like musical is simply a smash, making stars of unknowns like Maya Angela (pictured) and Chester Gregory.
It doesn’t hurt that “Dreamgirls” comes to us from some professionals with great credentials. William Ivey Long did the amazing costumes, Robin Wagner did the spare scenic design, Ken Billington the genius lighting. Robert Longbottom directed, and Shane Sparks did the choreography.
In the crowd: Bill Condon, who directed the smash film version of the show two years ago, as well as director’ George Lucas,’ Joan Rivers, Dick Parsons, Harry Belafonte, Sheryl Lee Ralph (the original Deena) and R&B legend Chuck Jackson. For some reason Anthony Daniels, who played c3pO was there, and he was just officious as his robotic character. He seemed unhappy no one recognized him but did get into a long conversation wtih Joan Rivers.
Condon was very pleased with the new version of the musical, maybe because its new life seems drawn from the movie’s success. For example, the show has added “Listen,” a song written into the movie for Beyonce. Now it’s a duet between the female stars Maya (Effie) and Deena (Syesha Mercado) and ten times more effective. These women, along with their fellow Dreams Adrienne Warren (Lorelle) and Margaret Hoffman (Michelle) are all finds, and make this “Dreamgirls” wash away the memory of previous stars like Ralph, Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson. That’s a tall order, and they pull it off.
Equally, the men of this “Dreamgirls” seem far more present and less skunklile. They seem to be more carefully thought out than before and three dimensional. Leading that pack is Chester Gregory, who makes James “Thunder” Early, based on James Brown and Wilson Pickett, less cartoon and more real. Maybe that’s because Gregory has already played both Jackie Wilson and Sam Moore in different shows. He knows his stuff.
But it’s always Effie’s show, and this Maya Angela is a sensation. She is the star of the week. With no Broadway credits, just stints with “Lion King” touring companies. Angela takes New York theater by storm and surprise this morning. She’s a delight, too. She told me that Jennifer Hudson spent 40 minutes with her, talking through the part for which she won the Oscar. As for “And I’m Telling You,” Angela said, “Before the auditions, I’d sung it before. I’d even tried out for the movie!” It was meant to be hers, I guess, and not it is.
Please, bring this show to Broadway!