Though a planned-for-New-York tour of Dreamgirls ended up stalling on the road three years back, Broadway will get a taste of that show — for one gala night, anyway — when the Actors' Fund offers a concert version of the musical, Sept. 24. The Ford Center, home of 42nd Street, will house the event, which promises much vocal firepower from its three stars: Audra McDonald, Heather Headley and Lillias White (who plays Effie). It'll also be a night for recent nostalgia, as Alice Ripley (The Rocky Horror Show) and Emily Skinner (The Full Monty), who played the joined-at-the-hip sisters of Side Show, reunite to play the Sweehearts vocal group and sing "Cadillac Car."
Even cameo roles in the concert are going to big names. According to a spokesperson at the Barlow-Hartman press office, Brian Stokes Mitchell (King Hedley II and a Tony winner for Kiss Me, Kate will play Jerry, while Patrick Wilson (The Full Monty) and Adam Pascal (Rent, Aida) will play film executives. Other recent additions to the cast include Tamara Tunie (as Michelle) and James Stovall (as Marty). Those previously announced for the Dream team include Darius de Haas (Marie Christine), Norm Lewis (Side Show, A New Brain) and Billy Porter (Miss Saigon).
Dreamgirls, a high-energy musical from the pens of librettist Tom Eyen and composer Henry Krieger (who went on to write the aforementioned Side Show), tells of a Supremes-like singing group that moves from the streets of Chicago to the big time — with lots of infighting and heartbreak along the way. Songs include "One Night Only," "I Am Changing," "When I First Saw You," "I'm Somebody," "Family" and Effie's show-stopping "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." The show was originally directed by Michael Bennett in 1981 and became legendary for its flashy staging and design.
Danny Herman will co-direct and co-choreograph the Sept. 24 concert with Smokey Joe's Cafe star, Brenda Braxton. Seth Rudetsky, former "Rosie O'Donnell Show" comedy writer and host of the weekly "Broadway Chatterbox" cabaret, is serving as musical director and artistic producer.
All three lead actresses in the show are Tony winners. Actress McDonald has won three (Carousel, Ragtime, Master Class). Relative newcomer Headley won the Best Actress Tony for Aida, and White nabbed the honor for her role in Cy Coleman's 1997 tuner, The Life. The nation's "only human service organization for all entertainment professionals," the Actors' Fund of America is best known for providing financial assistance and social services (food, rent, medical expenses) to professionals in need. Other Fund benefit evenings include performances of current Broadway shows given on nights when those shows don't normally play. Though all benefits go to the Fund, box office prices are the same as on other nights, and the evenings tend to be well-attended by members of the entertainment community.
Actors' Fund executive director Joe Benincasa told Playbill On-Line the concert "could be the biggest fundraising event of all time" for the organization. He noted that several previous benefits "were around the $600,000 mark" and that the famous "Night of 100 Stars" in the 1980s was a high profile success but had lower net profits because of television-related expenses. Benincasa did say that, allowing for inflation, the Fund's greatest fundraising drive still reaches all the way back to 1892, when $1 million was raised for the ten-year-old organization.
As for the current benefit, Benincasa couldn't praise the cast and creators highly enough: "They're rehearsing up a storm. I'm knocked out by their commitment; it's really been an overwhelming experience." Negotiations are underway to record the show for CD, though it will apparently not be preserved on a commercial video.
The only tickets now remaining for the benefit are in the $1,000-$2,500 range (the $50, $250 and $500 ducats are sold out). For information call The Actors' Fund at (212) 221-7300.