Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
(L to R) Donica Lynn “Effie White,” Candace C. Edwards “Deena Jones” and Katherine Thomas, “Lorrell Robinson”. Photo by Kelsey Jorissen.
Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of DREAMGIRLS is a musical theater lover’s dream. Under Brenda Didier’s direction, Henry Krieger’s score and Tom Eyen’s lyrics are delivered with a great deal of heart and power by the cast. And the intimacy of Stage 773’s Thrust performance space somehow manages to make the remarkable voices of the Dreams, the men in their lives, and their ensemble counterparts seem larger-than-life and undeniably potent. When DREAMGIRLS debuted in 1981 on Broadway, the show made Jennifer Holliday—who played the powerhouse role of the talented-but-slighted Effie White—a star. And in 2006, the film version introduced a new generation (including this reviewer) both to the musical and a new talent—Jennifer Hudson, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie. Fortunately, in Donica Lynn, Porchlight’s DREAMGIRLS has certainly found its own star. Lynn sings the hell out of the famous Act One showstopper “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Her jaw-dropping take on that number alone makes this production worth seeing—Lynn delivers the song in a performance that combines vocal perfection with emotional vulnerability.
Lynn is in excellent company on the stage. Though she makes a quieter Deena, Candace C. Edwards possesses all the qualities of a star on the rise. She’s a bit shy at first, but soon becomes confident and playful as the spotlight warms to Deena as the leader of the Dreams. And Edwards’s lead vocals on the titular song “Dreamgirls” are a highlight. As Lorrell, the third member of the Dreams who never has a chance to stand front-and-center, Katherine Thomas (making her Chicago theater debut) makes her character impossible to ignore. Thomas has an incredible amount of power in her voice and milks Lorrell’s solo vocal moments for all they are worth. She’s a joy to watch, and she particularly nails the second act duet “Ain’t No Party,” performed alongside Lorrell’s lover Jimmy Early (an impressive physical and vocal performance by Eric Lewis). Gilbert Domally is tender and earnest in his portrayal of Effie’s brother C.C. And as manager Curtis Taylor Jr.—the unrelenting businessman and the object of both Effie’s and Deena’s affections—Evan Tyrone Martin is fittingly a little charming, a lot slimy, and always sweet to hear when he sings.
Didier’s entertaining (though relatively simple) choreography makes the most of the production’s thrust staging, literally engaging the audience on all sides. Doug Peck’s music direction gives the show’s small band a full sound that allows the vocals to take the spotlight without feeling too sparse. Jeffrey D. Kmiec and Greg Pinsoneault’s steely set and Denise Karczewski’s lighting design capture the sleek showbiz atmosphere. And Bill Morey’s costume designs are truly dazzling—the Dreams’ costumes are delightfully decadent and glitzy.
Porchlight Music Theatre’s DREAMGIRLS will make audiences want to “Move” to the music, but in contrast to the lyrics of the Dreams’ first song, this production is one musical theater fans will want to have in their lives.
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