Frenchie, Meet Effie: Dreamgirls Starts Three-City West Coast Run Jan. 9 in San Jose

News   Frenchie, Meet Effie: Dreamgirls Starts Three-City West Coast Run Jan. 9 in San Jose Dreamgirls, the Broadway musical fable that reinvents Motown and pop music history, gets a high profile West Coast staging beginning Jan. 9 when American Musical Theatre of San Jose hosts the first of a three-city engagement.
Frenchie Davis in Dreamgirls
Frenchie Davis in Dreamgirls

What makes the revival of special note are the players: Mark S. Hoebee, the respected regional director whose work has been seen at Paper Mill Playhouse, directs; Brenda Braxton, of Broadway's Chicago and Smokey Joe's Cafe, choreographs; and Frenchie Davis, the zaftig, big-voiced diva from TV's "American Idol," plays spurned Motown diva Effie Melody White.

Audiences are hungry to hear Davis' version of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," one of the musical theatre's famed songs of defiance and desperation. She memorably sang the song on "American Idol" but was unexpectedly dropped from the TV vocal competition.

Dreamgirls performances continue in San Jose to Jan. 25. Opening is Jan. 19.

The full cast of Dreamgirls — co-produced by American Musical Theatre of San Jose, California Musical Theatre in Sacramento (Jan. 28-Feb. 8, 2004) and 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle (Feb. 10-29, 2004) — includes Regi Davis (Marty), Andre Garner (C.C. White), Rosena M. Hill (Michelle Morris), David Jennings (Curtis Taylor Jr.), Ramona Keller (Lorrell Robinson), Christopher L. Morgan (Wayne), Angela Robinson (Deena Jones), Harrison White (James Thunder Early), with Don Alden, Carmichael Blankenship, Maureen Brown, Iris Burruss, Taryn Darr, Douglas Eskew, Wilkie Ferguson III, Lavon D. Fisher, Stacey Harris, Monique L. Midgette, Christopher L. Morgan, Clifton Oliver, Kevin Steele, Kelsey Scott, Sandy Shimoda, Robert Tatad, Erwin Urbi, Titus Westy Willis, Ted Zervoulakos.

The 1981-82 Broadway hit, Dreamgirls, was created by director-choreographer Michael Bennett and composer Henry Krieger and lyricist by Tom Eyen. Further sweetening the West Coast production, which is not related to a developing Broadway revival, are the recreations of the original set and costume designs by Robin Wagner and Theoni V. Aldredge, respectively. Tom Sturge designed the lighting.

For San Jose ticket information, call (888) 455-SHOW or visit American Musical Theatre of San Jose.

For the subsequent run, visit 5thAvenueTheatre.org, or CaliforniaMusicalTheatre.com.

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Frenchie Davis, the big-voiced diva who was bounced from TV's "American Idol" in 2003, said playing spurned Motown singer Effie Melody White in Dreamgirls is a natural for her.

"The story is attractive to me," Davis said by telephone from Seattle, where she spoke to the media in December before jumping into rehearsals toward the production.

"I really get upset for her," Davis told Playbill On-Line. "Effie was treated very unfairly and I can definitely relate to the character. It's a tough business when you're not thin enough or marketable enough to the white audience. I think I, and Effie, both understand that. One could argue that what the Dreams did to Effie is what American Idol did to me."

Effie was bumped from the Supremes-like group (the Dreams) in the fictional Motown musical fable and forced to pick up the pieces of a thwarted career. Davis, 24, was famously cut from the popular television amateur contest, "American Idol," in February 2003 for her association with an adult website.

As Effie reinvents herself in the show, so did Frenchie Davis: Singing offers poured in, and a stint in Broadway's Rent was one of several opportunities she grabbed at. It was thought that Davis (whose cropped blonde hair was instantly recognizable) was a strong contender for the "Idol" win before she was axed, and Davis — expressing an Effie-like opinion — agrees.

"Anyone with a brain knows who the winner would have been had I stayed," she said, adding that she isn't bitter about it. "Everything happens for a reason. I'm not upset at all. I don't know if I want 'American Idol' to define who I am as an artist and my career. There's so much more to me than that. I think being kicked off blessed me with the opportunity to show that."

Although she earned her Actors' Equity card with Rent ealier this year, singing "Seasons of Love" and playing multiple roles, Davis performed in musicals at Howard University (she's on leave at the moment, and has yet to complete 30 credits before earning a BFA in musical theatre) and played in German productions of Little Shop of Horrors and Jesus Christ Superstar.

"I had been acting and singing before everything with 'American Idol' happened," Davis said. "With a major in musical theatre, I had been interested long before 'American Idol.' I was pretty disciplined before [Rent]. When I did the shows in Germany we had to do them in German. We had three weeks to do the whole show in German, in addition to all the blocking. That was when I learned discipline — over there."

Effie's big aria of Dreamgirls, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," was the first song Davis auditioned with for "American Idol."

After being booted from "Idol," Davis said, "I was getting offers, and I still am getting offers, but let me just make it clear: I auditioned like everyone else for Dreamgirls and for Rent. No one handed me anything."

She continues, "Dreamgirls has always been a show that I loved. I grew up listening to all kinds of musical theatre music, and Dreamgirls has always been one of my favorites. I think it's a great show. All I ever wanted was to be able to do what I love and make a comfortable living."

Davis, who is signed with Warner Bros. for an album, said that she used to have a five-year plan for where she'd be, but learned plans can't always be counted on.

"I can tell you, things are a lot different than I would have expected them to be when I made my five-year plan five years ago," she said. "I've just learned to stay in prayer and go with the flow."

Will Frenchie Davis be back on Broadway? Although the West Coast Dreamgirls is not related to the announced plan for a Broadway revival of the show, Davis hopes Broadway is in her future in some fashion.

"The producers of Rent and I have talked about the possibility of me coming back," Davis said. "There are some other projects happening in the Broadway community that I might be a part of — we'll see."