By Patrick Christiano
The Harlem Repertory Theater has scaled down Michael Bennett’s DREAMGIRLS into a dynamite production that sizzles in the intimate 133 Street Arts Center theatre. DREAMGIRLS of course was originally a dazzling hit 1992 Broadway musical that launched Jennifer Holiday’s career and was later made into a 2006 film with an all star cast that included Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Fox and Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose. Undaunted director/choreographer Keith Lee Grant, an AUDELCO award winner, has made some simple yet phenomenal choices in staging the show with an energetic cast that pulls out all the stops to give us an up close look at the classic. You have to admire Grant’s chutzpah for taking a musical of this magnitude and turning Dreamgirls into a fabulous little gem that sparkles and soars in the cozy setting.
The entire production including the terrific costumes, audio sound and lighting are all top notch. Many audience members were retuning for a second time, so I suggest you hurry uptown for this tasty treat. The show ran last year during August and September, but is back now by popular demand for 12 more performances giving everyone who loves live theater a chance to see what all the talk is about. And the critics have raved.
The musical is a moving tale about show business set in locations from Harlem to Las Vegas, however the physical closeness of the audience adds another layer of emotion to the evening. Grant has cleverly staged the evening with separate seating arrangements for each act. The first act is a proscenium arrangement, but in the second act the first two rows of the audience are moved onto the stage for an environmental arrangement that intensifies the evening giving increased tension to the story’s conflicts.
Every member of the extraordinary cast deliver committed passionate performances that bring the evening to full throttle, but the real find here may be Dion Millington, a native of Brooklyn making her debut with the Harlem Rep as Effie White, the defiant lead of an R&B pop music group based on the legendary Supremes. Millington has performed in the best cabaret venues in Manhattan, and apparently she has a gift for acting as well. Her strong forceful performance has shading and nuance, and her renditions of the big ballads "And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going" and "I Am Changing" are truly thrilling.
The other two members of the Dreamettes are played by Natalia Peguero-De La Cruz as Deena Jones and Tatianna Adams replacing Isis Kenny as Lorrell, the trio’s third original member. The remaining cast includes Oscar Aguirre as Curtis, Eric Myles as James, Roberto Guzman Jr. as CC, Magnus Percinthe as Marty, Daniel Fergus Tamulonis as Jerry& Mr. Moran, and Kyria Geneva as Michelle. The musical direction is by Andrew Arango.
DREAMGIRLS is now playing at 133rd Street Arts Center, 308 West 133rd Street in Harlem, Fridays @ 7pm. Saturdays @ 2pm & 7pm, and Sundays @ 3pm through February 3, 2013. For tickets call 212-868-4444 or online at www.Smarttix.com
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