Despite some good production values and performances, The Westcoast Black Theatre Troup’s show needs better flow and rhythm.
By Kay Kipling
When a show starts 15 minutes late, as Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s production of Dreamgirls did the other night, the question settles into the audience’s minds: Will this be worth the wait?
The split answer in this case: sometimes yes, sometimes no. While there is a lot of talent onstage, there are also frustrations for the viewer, due in part to opening night fumbles and in part to the company’s inability to keep up with the show’s many scene changes in a fluid manner. Dreamgirls is a piece that’s always moving, and here it sometimes comes to a grinding halt. That cuts into your entertainment enjoyment with a show that clocks in at nearly three hours.
In case you haven’t seen the recent hit movie or any other stage performances of Dreamgirls, it’s the story of a girl singing group (much like the Supremes) and the ups and downs of their careers and romantic lives during changing times in music and race relations in America in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a big, demanding show as it spans those years, technically, dramatically and musically.
WBTT partnered with the Manatee Players to present this show previously, and this new production at the historic Asolo Theater is a step up in terms of production values. Bill Fenner’s costumes, Steve Mitchell’s scenic backdrops and Jeff Dillon’s lighting design all help bring credibility to the glitzy show biz story.
Some of the cast remains the same as in the Manatee production, most notably Teresa Stanley, who’s still a smash as the headstrong, vulnerable Effie, passed over in love and star billing by manager Curtis (Nate Jacobs, who too often feels stiff in the role, although to be fair, it’s an underwritten part). Also on board again as part of “The Dreams” are Tsadok Porter and Jnana Wilson; both have their moments to shine on solos, too. New to the cast is Chadwick as James “Thunder” Early, a composite of many early soul singers who found themselves shunted aside for a safer, softer pop sound. Chadwick has the James Brown-like moves and vocals down pat here, although he, like others in the cast, sometimes had a dialogue problem. And with many numbers, some lyrics are unfortunately lost under the sound of the orchestra.
There are powerful moments in this Dreamgirls; it’s just too bad the whole show can’t flow as seamlessly as one of those Motown numbers we all love to dance to. Dreamgirls continues onstage at the Historic Asolo Theater through March 24; for tickets call 360-7399 or go to ringling.org.