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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Apollo Theater


  (Center: L to R) Margaret Hoffman, Syesha Mercado, Adrienne Warren/ Ph: Joan Marcus

It’s quite fitting that the new touring production of Dreamgirls is premiering at the Apollo Theater. For 75 years the Harlem landmark has been a launching pad for great talents like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill and many others. This crowd-pleasing revival boasts a sensational cast, and some of the standouts may well be on their way to stardom. Director-choreographer Robert Longbottom, whose Bye-Bye Birdie at the Roundabout was panned by most critics, should also see his stock rise.
The original 1981 Broadway production of Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s Dreamgirls featured brilliant staging by Michael Bennett and a powerhouse performance from Jennifer Holiday. The 2006 film version was directed by Bill Condon and showcased the dynamite Jennifer Hudson, who managed to both overshadow Beyoncé and win an Oscar. Longbottom and his casting team have found a worthy successor to Holiday and Hudson: Moya Angela, who practically rattles the rafters whenever she unleashes her voice at full throttle.
Angela plays Effie White, the most talented member of a girl group that gets its big break at, yes, the Apollo. Her big voice and confidence attract the ambitious Curtis Taylor Jr. (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), who gets the Dreams a backup gig for Jimmy Early (Chester Gregory) and then their own tour. Eventually Curtis falls for another member of the group, Deena Jones (Syesha Mercado), and makes her the lead singer. Effie becomes difficult to work with and is replaced by Michelle Morris (Margaret Hoffman). The other Dream, Lorrell Robinson (Adrienne Warren), has a long-running affair with the womanizing but still married Early.
Gregory is a knockout as the flamboyantly soulful showman Early (who is a fictionalized James Brown, just as the Dreams are a thinly veiled version of the Supremes). Gregory commands the stage in his big numbers, and he’s a riot when he tries to tone down his act for a conservative white audience but can’t contain himself. Warren is similarly impressive as Lorrell, and Mercado sounds a lot like Diana Ross.
Longbottom’s staging is generally slick and efficient, though it could be simpler and less showy at times. Robin Wagner’s set, which includes five large panels that are frequently on the move, is nicely adaptable. Howard Werner designed the video projections, which help tell the story but occasionally upstage the performers. And costume designer William Ivey Long pulls out the stops with a cavalcade of flashy color-coordinated 60s and 70s outfits. (The Apollo is known for having virtually no wingspace, so the quick changes are pretty miraculous.)
Despite all the production elements, Angela and company manage to hold the audience’s attention from start to finish. Angela’s fiery, no-holds-barred rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is just one of many highlights in an entertaining and fast-paced production. It’s great to have Dreamgirls at the Apollo, but New Yorkers will have to hurry to catch it before the production leaves town in December. 


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