The Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre comes alive with the sounds of Motown in a production of Dreamgirls that features some amazing vocals.Director Bill Millerd has assembled a stellar cast for this Tony Award winning musical about the rise and fall of the “The Dreams”, a female Motown trio in the 60s and 70s, but while they easily capture the music of the time they are let down by a story that takes a backseat to the music, some lackluster choreography and a design that fails to capture the necessary glitz.
No doubt there is an argument that a musical about music must be first-and-foremost about the music, but there is also a wonderful story of romance, betrayal and friendship that is dying to be heard here as well. And without wanting to invoke the wrath of hardcore musical theatre fans, it is largely the reason that the film version was as successful and garnered an Oscar and a multitude of other awards for Jennifer Hudson who not only sang her heart out, but left that same heart on each frame in the role of Effie.
Perhaps it is the medium that gets in the way, but the story here never quite finds that same heart. We’re so busy moving from song to song at such a break-neck pace that there is little time left for the story. That isn’t to say that it misses the mark completely, but it wasn’t until act two when Curtis and Deena declare their love in “When I First Saw You” that the emotion of the story are equally matched with the emotion of their voices.
Of course any production of Dreamgirls is only as good as its star’s abilities and Aurianna Angelique delivers as Effie White, the singer who finds herself pushed to the background because she doesn’t quite match the ideal of what a star looks like. Angelique’s renditions of both “And I Am Telling You” and “I Am Changing” are as good as you’ll hear anywhere. She is joined by the equally talented Karen Holness as the reluctant front to the new trio and the ambitious Daren Herbert as Curtis Taylor Jr. Hector Johnson shows off his range as the womanizer Jimmy Thunder and Alvin Sanders brings a nice turn to his long-suffering manager.
The small six-member orchestra led by music director Ken Cormier is as tight as the singing with a suitable funkiness to bring Henry Krieger’s music to life.
Valerie Easton’s choreography appears to suffer from a cast whose strong-suit is not dance and while the simple doo-wop type moves are handled with ease, the cast seems to crumble under the pressure of her larger more complex numbers.
Set designer Ted Roberts’ utilitarian set is surprisingly drab, although it does have the one benefit of allowing Sheila White’s gorgeous costumes to pop on stage, which is even more surprising given Marsha Sibthorpe’s subdued lighting design.
This Arts Club production of Dreamgirls is all about the music and its cast delivers.
Book and lyrics by Tom Eyen. Music by Henry Krieger. Directed by Bill Millerd. Musical direction by Ken Cormier. On stage at the Stanley Theatre through July 7, 2013. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.