“Dreamgirls”: They, like this new production, will never leave you

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Trejah Bostic, Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Keirsten Hodgens wearing pink dresses
Trejah Bostic, Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Keirsten Hodgens with the cast of McCarter and Goodspeeds Dreamgirls. (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)
The cast on stage of the play Dreamgirls
The cast of Dreamgirls (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton puts to good use its large Matthews Theatre space in presenting a lively, energetic production of Dreamgirls, Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s 1981 multiple award winning musical. Set in the decade from the early 60s to the early 70s, the show can be seen as both a fairytale of the successes of a girl group and its lead singers, and as a cautionary tale of how easily success can justify deception and unchecked ambition. That both tales can be integrated is part of the genius of the show, and part of what makes Dreamgirls a mesmerizing experience in the theater.

Girl group, the Dreams, is led by Effie White (Trejah Bostic), with her two friends Deena Jones (Ta-Tynisa Wilson) and Lorrell Robinson (Keirsten Hodgens). They arrive at New York’s Apollo Theatre for the amateur contest with Effie’s brother, songwriter Claridge Conrad “CC” White (Jos N. Banks). There they meet fast-talking car salesman Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Evan Tyrone Martin), who is looking to get into talent management, and superstar James Thunder Early (Saint Aubyn) and his manager Marty (Robert Cornelius). Curtis, claiming to represent the Dreams, talks Early into taking on the Dreams as his backup singers, then talks Effie into taking the gig.

Both Early and the Dreams rise in the music business. Early tones down his raw personal and musical energies in performance. The Dreams play up a “glamour girl” image — and switch Effie and Deena as backup and lead singers. Curtis changes as well, learning to play the payola game to get exposure for the Dreams. He convinces his singers, and songwriter CC, to switch genres from soul to pop, to be more palatable to white audiences, and switches his affections from Effie to Deena.

Meanwhile, the married Early begins an affair with Lorell. Things come to a head before the Dreams’ first big solo Las Vegas show, with Effie dropped from the group for the sleeker Michelle Morris (Shantel Cribbs).

The cast members, guided by director Lili-Anne Brown, deliver powerhouse performances along with equally powerful vocal renditions of the show’s familiar score, including Effie’s raw first-act finale, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Effie is a part that can make a star out of its performer, as shown by the original stage and screen Effies, Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson. Teejah Bostic is poised to join their ranks with her performance in this production, showcasing her breadth of acting range in the number “I Am Changing.” Aubyn’s second-act performance “Rap”, an on-stage mental breakdown set to music, is a hilariously raunchy delight. Similar acting range is shown throughout by Martin’s Curtis, Wilson’s Deena, Banks’ CC White, and Hodgens’ unlucky-in-love Lorell.

The glitzy set morphs into nightclub stages, TV studios, Las Vegas venues, gritty backstage areas, and low-class dives. Created by scenic designer Arnel Sancianco and lit by Jason Lynch, it provides appropriate backgrounds for the play’s action. As for the costumes of Samantha C. Jones and Earon Chew Nealey’s hair and wig designs, they revive memories of similar performers of the era, including James Brown, Johnny Mathis, the Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, and, yes, the Supremes.

Dreamgirls is moving and powerful, a whirlwind of talent and production values designed to be sheer entertainment while telling its cautionary tales of ambition and success. It is a lively delight, and I strongly encourage you to make the trip to Princeton to see the one, the only Dreamgirls!

McCarter Theatre banner 2024

Don’t miss the LGBTQ Pride Party on Thursday, March 21, 2024. Tickets and info are here.

Dreamgirls is presented in the Matthews Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through March 24, 2024.  For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to mccarter.org or call 609-258-2787.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.