By Kenneth Jones
24 Jan 2006
The 1981 Broadway musical about a Motown-era girl group, their lovers, collaborators and business partners, is directed by Prince's associate artistic director Richard M. Parison, who was caught off guard by the enthusiasm of Philadelphia audiences.
"We worked so hard on pre-production and the rehearsal process and when it opened to audience and critical acclaim I think we were so focused on creating an honest and fresh and dynamic production that we lost track of the outside world," Parison told Playbill.com. "The response has been overwhelming."
By the end of the 80-performance extended engagement, Dreamgirls will be one of the longest running shows in Prince's history, and will rival the box office success of the 2001 Prince hit Me and Mrs. Jones, Parison said.
Dreamgirls, which has choreography by Mercedes Ellington, first extended to Jan. 15, then to Jan. 28. The recent third extension to Feb. 26 will come after a hiatus (Jan. 29-Feb. 6) to allow for put-in rehearsals due to recasting.
"It's been exciting for Philadelphia," Parison said, adding that the production is attracting a diverse crowd — African-American, white, young, old. "It's exciting that Dreamgirls is being re-introduced to an entirely new generation of theatre audiences, in advance of the movie version."
The three original Prince "Dreams" from December — Chauntee Schuler as Deena, Nova Payton as Effie, Cjay Hardy Philip as Lorrell — will have played the entire three-month run by the February closing.
Alexis Sims, who plays Michelle Morris, the "fourth" pop singer in the Motown Dreams group, exits the production Jan. 28, as does Kevyn Morrow as ambitious manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (as well as some ensemble members). Denver Andre Taylor, currently playing Marty after replacing Brian Anthony Wilson, who exited in early January, will be returning to the ensemble. Marty will be recast for the February run.
Playbill.com learned outside producers are inquiring about plucking up the not-for-profit staging and presenting it elsewhere in a commercial scenario (including possible Las Vegas and Atlantic City engagements).
Composer Krieger visited the show and sat for an audience Q & A session Jan. 10, and the appearance stimulated more interest in the production.
"Henry Krieger himself told me it was the most heartfelt and best production since the original," Parison said. "It was awesome."
For more information about Prince Music Theater, whose mission is musical theatre, visit www.princemusictheater.org.
Prince Music Theater's resident Equity staging of Dreamgirls opened Dec. 10, 2005, following a week of previews from Dec. 3. It was announced to play only to Dec. 31.
Parison is Prince's associate artistic director and a recent Barrymore Award nominee for his production of The Big Bang in Philadelphia.
The glamorous musical by Henry Krieger (music) and Tom Eyen (book and lyrics) is seen anew, put together by a creative team and cast drawn from a pool of artists from New York and Philadelphia.
The show known for its flash, glitter and "big" feel is scaled-down at the Prince to allow "focus on the emotional journey of the women," Parison told Playbill.com.
"The scenic design is completely different than the original design, but still incorporates the fluidity and the cinematic nature of the piece," he said.
He calls this revival a sort of chamber version of the pop show, though none of the power of the Krieger-Eyen score is diminished.
Parison explained, "It's one of the things that regional theatre can do really well: Take things that are large in scale and take a fresh approach to it in a way that can create something exciting for our community. We've been playing to sold out houses since previews."
The music director is Jesse Vargas (Bare: A Pop Opera, Altar Boyz Off-Broadway and Joyful Noise: The Clay Aiken National Tour).
The cast includes Eugene Fleming (Broadway's Fosse and Never Gonna Dance) as James Thunder Early, Forrest McClendon (Disney workshop of Aida) as CC White, James T. Lane (national tour of Cinderella with Eartha Kitt) as Wayne, with Emily MacNamara, Piper Arpan, Renee Chambers, Erika Vaughn, Dawn Marie Watson, Mike Newman, Ricky Whitfied, Greg Baker, James Clark and Paul Mansfied.
Dreamgirls, the 1981 Broadway hit originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, is currently being developed into a motion picture, for a late 2006 release. The Tony Award-winning show focuses on the trials of a Supremes-like singing African-American girl group and their struggle to make it to the top — "including heartache, triumphs, breakups and disappointment," according to Prince notes.
The score includes "One Night Only," "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," "I Am Changing" and "Fake Your Way to the Top," among others.