Book & Lyrics by Tom Eyen
It’s rare that an audience acts as one in getting to its feet in a post-show of appreciation. Usually it begins with one or two – slowly joined by others in groups of twos and threes until most of the audience is standing. That wasn’t the case at last night’s opening of Dreamgirls, when almost all of the audience bolted to its feet, applauding madly, joined by a handful of stragglers. One senses that this might be the perfect entertainment for a very down economy.
The appreciation was merited, because so much was just drop-dead perfect. Had the sound system died entirely, efforts of lighting designer Ken Billington would have kept the audience completely entranced. The spare set consisted only of five floor-to-ceiling movable racks of LEDs – but the design was so over-the-top perfect that it boosted everyone’s energy. I confess to spending a good part of the show trying to figure out how they possibly managed to mirror the image of the on-stage actresses onto these mammoth racks in real-time, let alone achieve myriad other effects. Couple this set with the conventional overhead lighting and a forest of lighting trees on stage left and right, and the Curran was lit as brightly as Times Square. The magic of the lighting team was that this boosted and complemented the performance, instead of being a fascinating distraction.
Choreography by director Robert Longbottom won the audience over in the first minutes of the show with a dapper performance by little Albert and the Tru-Tones that was as good, if not better, than any of the moves that followed. If you weren’t eating out of the cast’s hands with this number, you were soon to succumb with “Steppin’ to the Bad Side”, which followed shortly.
Vocals by Moya Angela (Effie White), Syesha Mercado (Deena Jones) and Adrienne Warren (Lorrell Robinson) power through a script of the ups and downs of an R&B group in which lead singers get shoved aside, managers sell out the band in the name of success, lovers never leave their husbands, and a reunion of sorts and personal revelation ultimately carry the day. The voices of any of these women are the vocal equivalent of Billington’s lights: high power, non-stop, rich and textured – in short, R&B the way R&B should be. The dressers must be as high energy as the vocalists themselves to get through the 305 costumes and 175 wigs used in the performance.
My only hesitation with this show is with the script itself. Dreamgirls doesn’t fall prey to ‘60s nostalgia. This show is too smart for that. However, we’re both too close and too far from this material for it to work as well as it could. That being said, I suspect this show will be with us for a long time – and we’ll be richer because of it.
4 out of 5 stars
Through September 26, 1010
Director: Robert Longbottom
Moya Angela, Syesha Mercado, Adrienne Warren, Chester Gregory
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street
San Francisco (888) 746-1799