The Theatre Cedar Rapids production of "Dreamgirls" had to overcome the nightmare of sound trouble on opening night, Jan. 23. Nevertheless, under the direction of Leslie Charipar and the musical direction of Janelle Lauer, the cast delivered some charismatic performances and powerhouse vocals that clearly moved the large crowd.
"Dreamgirls" is the story of a black girl group in the 1960s and '70s. A wily and driven manager helps the Dreams find commercial success but at great personal cost. The musical - with a book by Tom Eyer and music by Henry Krieger - explores the price of fame, the nature of family, and the challenges of finding one's own way both artistically and in the wider world.
The TCR cast features three wonderful singers as the Dreams. Faith Brooks plays Lorell Robinson, the meekest member of the group who eventually finds the resolve to stand up to her married lover. Staisha Federick portrays Deena Jones whose promotion to the lead singer ro - and relationship with the group's manager - tears the trio apart. Alicia Strong is Effie Melody White, a proud woman with a soaring voice who finds herself replaced in the group she used to lead and in the heart of the man she loves.
All three women have strong moments in the show, particularly in the second act when they each have featured solos during which their characters grab hold of their own destinies. Strong is, as her character requires, the strongest singer in the entire cast, and her three significant solos - "(And I'm Telling You) I'm Not Going," "I Am Changing," and "One Night Only" - were sung with power, texture and control. In particular, she nailed "I Am Changing," a demanding song that showed off Strong's range and ability to shape a vocal via shifts in dynamics and tone. Strong is also one of the best actors in the cast, convincingly delivering Effie's biting retorts to those who stand in her way.
Key to the plot are the various men who seek to support and manipulate the women (often believing they are doing the former by doing the latter). In general, the men in the cast do not consistently sing as well as the three central women, but Stephen Banks, as agent Curtis Taylor, Jr., offered up some sweetly toned vocals as his character sought to hang on to the group he forged and the woman he claims to love. DiAndré Neville is delightful as Jimmy Early, a flamboyant, driven performer who Neville portrays as something of a mash-up of Prince and Little Richard. Cameron Byrd is excellent as Marty, the one man in the show who truly may have the interest of others at heart, while Tevin Jones is likable as CC White, Effie's brother and songwriter for the Dreams.
The sound trouble often made it difficult to follow the details of the plot. The troubles seemed to take three forms - missed mic cues which rendered characters intermittently inaudible; technical problems with the mics themselves; and sound design challenges inherent in having the show's (quite good) orchestra on stage. In combination with some stiffly delivered dialogue, spotty vocals, and seemingly anachronistic choreography, the sound problems contributed to an uneven presentation.
Still, the technical problems are likely to be resolved as the run continues. And Strong's vocal performance is strong enough to qualify as "can't miss." She is certainly this cast's dream girl.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
WHEN: Jan. 23 to Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays
COST: $33 adults, $18 students in advance; $37 adults, $21 day of show;
DETAILS: (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org
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