Dallas — The story behind Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s musical Dreamgirls is a familiar pop culture allegory—the cautionary tale of how the journey to the top isn’t always on the easy road, and how fame can change people, both for the better and the worse. It’s also a non-stop drama punctuated with very high highs and very low lows, thrown together with soul, sparkle, and songs that narrate their way through some of the best decades of pop, R&B, and soul.
The show features the kind of fun, infectious music that has you tapping your foot in time with the beat or even dancing a little in your seat. There’s energy, feeling, nostalgia. And the Dallas Theater Center production, directed by Joel Ferrell, is so full of that energy and feeling that it has people rising from their chairs in the Wyly Theatre, waving their arms in praise like it’s Sunday morning.
From the first moment of opening number, staged both in front of and behind the curtain as the Dreamettes rise from obscurity to become the Dreams, this production is non-stop. When the lights go up between acts one and two, it’s barely enough time to catch a breath before diving straight back into the action on Bob Lavallee’s simple (but sparkly) modular set.
Music director and conductor Michael O. Mitchell helms the piano on the bandstand, transforming from background player to bar pianist with a mere slide of the stage. Thanks to Mitchell, the sound from both instruments and actors alike is expressive and era-appropriate, with tightly layered harmonies and a full-bodied sound that carries.
The cast is a fantastic blend of some of the best local talent in Dallas with some stellar out-of-town performers who have been treading the boards on Broadway and national tours. The ensemble goes full-out in every moment, flawlessly executing the smooth moves of choreographer Rickey Tripp and taking the audience easily from doo-wop to go-go to disco with a few costume changes and a wig or two.
Marisha Wallace is one of the brightest stars on the stage, bringing Effie White to life in vivid strokes in her DTC debut. Her voice is powerful and passionate, capable of wringing out every drop of emotion and leaving it on the stage. She’s boisterous in one moment and heartbreaking in the next, and whether she’s singing or not, it can be hard to tear your eyes away from her charismatic presence. Just beware of any falling set pieces as Wallace absolutely sings the rafters down at the end of the first act.
Eric LaJuan Summers is a huge hit as James “Thunder” Early, the James Brown-esque power performer who shakes, shimmies, and writhes his way into audiences’ hearts (and laps) with a fun, soulful sound. His chemistry with Dallas native Kristen Bond, playing Dreamgirl Lorrell Robinson, sells their hot and cold relationship perfectly. Bond is funny and feisty, and while she might be tiny, her voice is not. Together they provide some much needed levity—when they’re not creating their own drama, anyway.
Alexis Sims embodies the delicate diva Deena Jones, quietly taking her from wide-eyed ingénue to seasoned, calculated performer without a misstep. While she doesn’t showcase the strength that Wallace does as Effie, it’s obvious that it’s there. But Deena is more restrained, less power and more polish, and it’s not hard to believe Sims becoming less the reluctant muse and finding her footing as a star who is no longer content to live out the dreams of others.
Derrick Davis, slimy and slick as the opportunistic Curtis Taylor, Jr., is a good actor with a velvety crooner voice, yet he feels a little one-note in comparison to the more nuanced performances around him. But that could also just be the way his part is written—Curtis is out for one person, and that’s himself. Davis absolutely sells the sleaze, especially in the fantastic number “Steppin’ to the Bad Side,” where he starts his payola campaign to push Jimmy Early to the top and bring the Dreamettes right along with him.
Clinton Greenspan, another Dallas performer, is a breath of fresh air as Effie’s brother, C.C. White. He's got an excellent combination of boyish good looks, aw-shucks charm, and a light, expressive voice. It’s almost impossible not to root for him to hold on to the sweetness he shows early in the show, and he’s got a believable, tender rapport with the ladies, especially Effie and his love interest—his sister’s eventual replacement—Michelle Morris (played by the lovely Traci Elaine Lee).
Dreamgirls is the full package—fun music, fantastic talent, fabulous performances—and it’s another big hit for the Dallas Theater Center. Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time staying still in your seat. If opening night is anything to go by, you won’t be the only one.