Thursday, April 28, 2016
Some critics dismissed Michael Bennet's production of Dreamgirls as style over substance. I disagree. Effie and Lorell are complex, three-dimensional characters and the theme of cultural appropriation is thoughtfully woven throughout. My quibbles come from the characterizations of Deena Jones and Curtis Taylor Jr.
Actresses who play Deena often fight against her passive ingenue nature. It's possible the writers wanted to avoid a lawsuit from her real life inspiration. She stands up to Effie in Act One but never gets to let her inner Eve Harrington out in Act Two. Beyonce got a new 11'o clock number which almost made up for the blandness of her book scenes.
Then there's Curtis. Many charismatic actors have tackled the role but the libretto only has time for his villainous side. Whatever happiness he found with Deena is left offstage at intermission. By act two he's spouting so much villain dialogue you expect him to tie the Dreams to the train tracks. If Curtis is "the best man Effie will ever know" than she needs to rethink her dating strategies. Curtis is just the worst.
People remember the big songs but, like Rent, some of the most interesting music occurs in the sung through book scenes. The solo "And I Am Telling You" is all the stronger for following the fantastic "It's All Over" sequence.