Theater Review: ‘Dreamgirls’ Is Kaleidoscope of Talent

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown Playhouse first produced the musical Dreamgirls in 1989. Judging from the enthusiastic response from the opening night audience Saturday at the current Dreamgirls production at the Playhouse,“absence does make the heart grow fonder.”

With book & lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, the high energy musical received an avalanche of love from a sold-out audience.

The show tells the story of the rise to fame of a fictional girl group known as the Dreams laid against the background of such acts as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and the birth of the Motown sound. The original Broadway show was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and walked away with six winners.

There is no question that the Playhouse production is a winner. An insanely talented cast cranks out the high energy story with such an even and fast pace that there is hardly time for audience applause from one musical number to the next.

Playing the intense role of Effie White, lead singer of The Dreamettes (before they become The Dreams), is Cleveland actress Sharleen Riley.

This role is no stranger to Riley who previously played it at the Akron Civic Theatre. That familiarity paid dividends to her as she was totally immersed in Effie from her first appearance at the Apollo Theatre in Act I to the final Dreams appearance in New York in Act II.

Sharleen Riley is totally immersed in her role as Effie.

Riley is a powerful presence on stage and commands attention in every facet of her performance. She literally stops the show with her Act I closer, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

Her cohorts in music Jennifer Zamis (as Deena) and Arielle T. Green (as Lorrell), both shine particularly when Effie is ousted from the group and Deena takes over her lead vocals. Zamis and Green show considerable depth in their characters as their lives change and the group dynamic of The Dreams changes during their rocky road to stardom.

The new Dream addition of Myra Corley (as Michelle) does herself proud in her theatrical debut and shows a lot of promise for future productions.

As Curtis Taylor, Jr., the manager for The Dreams, Joshua William Green gives a strong performance and is a perfect buffer for Effie. A very talented actor, Green breathes total believability into his character and his scenes with Effie are sharp and powerful as the no nonsense manager pulling The Dreams’ strings.

Curtis Taylor Jr. is played by Joshua William Green.

James Major Burns turns in a masterful performance as James Thunder Early, a James Brown-esque character. Burns carries a lot of the comedy load in the show and doesn’t miss a beat.

James Major Burns portrays James Thunder Early

Karrington Griffin and Martin Charles as C.C. White and Marty, respectively, offer up strong performances in smaller roles.

First-time director Trevail Maurice shows a real love for this show and it is illustrated in his highly effective seamless staging and fast-paced movement of a huge musical. His casting was impeccable. Also serving as scenic designer, his unit set with the upstage catwalk served the show wonderfully and eliminated any need for scene changes.

Ellen Licitra has outdone herself as lighting designer for the production. The show is a cascade of color from every direction imaginable with imaginative use of lighting in almost every nook and cranny. Another reason Licitra is the queen of lighting designers in the area.

Musical directors Jaron M. LeGrair and Curtis Tate handled a very difficult score with ease and helped make the singing and acting seem natural and smooth.

Choreographer Kiara Jones did outstanding work with a dance intense show.

And the ostumes by Therese Pitzulo and Wendy Akers are stunning and compliment the overall kaleidoscopic effect.

If You Go:
Sept. 13, 14 at 7:30 pm
Sept. 8, 15 at 2:30 pm
Tickets: 330 788 8739

Editor’s Note: The Business Journal is expanding our coverage of arts, culture and entertainment in the region. Guy D’Astasfo, former entertainment editor for The Vindicator, is our new entertainment editor. Look for his stories and insights as well as future community theater reviews by J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

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