The Oklahoma premiere of Dreamgirls at Poteet Theatre was a visually spectacular blast from the past. The elaborate set design and wardrobe perfectly captured the mood of the 60s and 70s, and the masterfully crafted storytelling and breathtaking choreography effectively carried the audience to the heart of the Motown era for a tale of love, heartbreak, greed, betrayal, friendship and redemption.
In the early sixties, Effie White (Jaleesa Beavers), Deena (Savannah Jackson) and Lorrell (Heather Harris) are the young Dreamettes. Their sights on stardom, they enter the famous Amateur Night talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York in hopes of being discovered. With no chance of winning due to the corrupt influence of Curtis Taylor (Michael Morris-Andreaus) and the extraordinary talent of Tiny Joe Dickson (James Willis), the girls are defeated despite an effort arguably worthy of victory (Tiny Joe was a bad boy in this production though). Their dream seemingly derailed, they are unwittingly vulnerable to the manipulation of Curtis, who has designs on becoming their manager and capitalizing on their talents.
Curtis arranges for the Dreamettes to sing backup for surefire hit machine Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Eugene Smith). Jimmy is managed by Marty (Max Townsend), who watches over his interests with noble stewardship. With a deal agreed upon, the stage is set for the girls’ exposure to the seedy underbelly of showbiz.
Romance develops between the amazingly talented albeit un-vogue-ly voluptuous Effie and the cunning, devious Curtis as the Dreamettes evolve into the Dreams. The trio experiences great success backing up Jimmy and singing original songs written by Effie’s prolific brother CC (Jeryme R. McCrary). Along the way a tryst blooms between wild, womanizing Jimmy and naïve, impressionable Lorrell.
As Curtis shifts his interests toward Deena, a formidable vocalist with a more marketable physical presence, the Dreams find themselves in a nightmare as the “family” begins to come unglued. With Effie forced out by Curtis’ manipulation – aided by her own attitude – the more manageable Michelle (Regina Joy Banks) replaces Effie and the group moves on.
Fast forward to the seventies and the Dreams have become an international sensation. Curtis’ grip on Deena has grown tighter and become more tenuous at the same time. Jimmy’s demons catch up with him and take a toll on his complicated, enabling affair with the longsuffering Lorrell. Effie has spiraled without her sisters, but may have a chance at redemption yet. Corruption, scandal and drama abound as this tantalizing tale unfolds.
Jay Prock’s direction is brilliant in Dreamgirls. The Poteet stage has been transformed into a turntable that keeps the action intensely moving, and Jay utilizes it to expertly segue and shift from one stunning visual to the next. A veiled screen is used to display beautiful visual cues that aesthetically underline the era and mood of the story as it progresses. Sherri Long’s choreography is absolutely masterful, as is Tim Wall’s musical direction, both painting a vivid, scintillating picture that beautifully complements the storytelling without ever being a distraction.
Jaleesa Beavers is remarkable as Effie, capturing her emotion and attitude, and making her transformation believable. Her voice is surprisingly powerful as she blows the audience away with stirring renditions of standards “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going”, “Love You, I Do”, “I am Changing” and “One Night Only.” She clearly acquits herself as the heart and soul of the Dreamgirls. Savannah Jackson gives a solid dramatic performance as Deena. She also shines vocally, gamely making a case that her merit as lead singer of the Dreams is based on more than just her appearance. Heather Harris sweetly captures the naïveté and longsuffering of Lorrell, making us believe in her and root for her despite being knowledgeable of Jimmy’s marital status. We feel her pain as she gradually arrives at a painful conclusion regarding her relationship, and later experiences an even more devastating blow.
Michael Morris-Andreaus plays a shrewdly sinister Curtis with great skill and has quite a few rather impressive vocal moments of his own. Max Townsend adeptly embodies the no-nonsense, fatherly Marty, helping Effie seek redemption and finding his own in the process. Jeryme R. McCrary is entertaining and emotionally transparent as CC and also brings a palatable musical flavor to the table.
It is Eugene Smith who clearly steals the show as Jimmy Early. His womanizing antics, deft vocal acrobatics and comically scintillating gyrations are worth the price of admission all by themselves. Add to that his defiant yet vulnerable spiral into shameless desperation as he struggles to maintain relevance as an artist, and you’ve got a home run. Smith’s indefatigable energy motivates those around him and keeps the audience on our toes as well as he clearly brings the “Thunder” to his unique embodiment of Jimmy Early. Kudos Eugene.
James Willis gives an outstanding performance as Tiny Joe Dickson that makes it seem like no injustice at all that he wins the talent competition. Regina Joy Banks proves her merit as one of the Dreams, getting in where she fits in without disturbing the balance of the group and vocally holding her own. The entire ensemble cast shines in this magnificent production, with many filling multiple roles. Particularly charming were young Patrick Offah (Campbell), Maya Joy Banks (Magic) and the voice of young Amber Banks singing the signature song to open the show.
In all, Dreamgirls at Poteet Theatre is a marvelously entertaining show. Though the production was lengthy, time seemed to fly and there was never a dull moment. Congratulations to Jay Prock, Poteet Theatre, and the cast and crew of Dreamgirls for a job well done.
Dreamgirls will be running at Poteet theatre through December 8th. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 405-609-1023 or visiting http://www.poteettheatre.com.
Brian C. Scott