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Theater review: Dreamgirls go big at Signature
By GAIL CHOOCHAN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
For its latest show, Signature Theatre is not afraid to dream big. “Dreamgirls” is an all-out musical sensation featuring dazzling costumes and set design, and a cast with infectious energy.
This Broadway smash, and later big-screen remake, follows the rising success of three young singers from Chicago. During their journey to stardom, relationships are strained when clashing personalities and, of course, a man come in between them.
Signature has enlisted a talented group of singers, but their biggest coup is Nova Y. Payton in the role of Effie White. Frequent patrons will recognize her from previous productions of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Xanadu” and “Hairspray,” and know that even in supporting roles Payton is a scene-stealer.
As a member of The Dreams, formerly known as The Dreamettes (less mature-sounding), Effie has been pushed to the back by the group’s overly ambitious new manager Curtis Taylor Jr. He brings Deena, with her cover-girl looks, to the front as the new lead singer. He’s also managing the career of the legendary Jimmy “James Thunder” Early, who may be married but that’s not keeping him from pursuing the singing group’s third member, Lorrell. Curtis has big ideas for all the performers, and will do whatever it takes to get them all the way to the top.
Although Curtis is hers, Effie can’t help but think there is something going on between him and her longtime friend Deena. Eventually this gifted singer, possessing a spirit that can’t be put down, will let her voice (and what a voice) be heard.
“(And I Am Telling You) I’m Not Going” is the musical’s defining number. Yes, there are a lot of great songs throughout the show, but this is the one everyone is waiting for. It’s a showstopper of a song, an endless wave of powerful emotions.
And Payton absolutely and stunningly kills it. Viewers will remain motionless in their seats, hanging on every note and feeling, until that last line, “You’re gonna love me.” Jennifer Hudson would be very, very proud.
In the role of Jimmy, Cedric Neal is positively fun to watch as he shimmies and stomps his way all over the stage. And when Jimmy becomes unhinged, after years of settling for a Perry Como-like career, Neal brings back his character’s missing funk with wild gusto. “Friday Night Lights” fans will be blown away that this East Dillon baddie is a well-oiled singing (and dancing) machine.
As Deena, Shayla Simmons brings an elegant calmness to her role. She may not have a voice that can knock down walls, but Simmons is flawless in her own musical numbers. With Crystal Joy as Lorrell and Kara–Tameika Watkins as Effie’s eventual replacement, Michelle, the three singers bang out song after song, all the while going through multiple costume and hair changes.
You’re just gonna love these “Dreamgirls.”
WANT TO GO:
Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Max Theatre.
When: Through Jan. 6, 2013.
Cost: $40 and up
Info: 703/820-9771; signature-theatre.org
Gail Choochan: 540/374-5000