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THEATER REVIEW: 'Dreamgirls' a beautiful show, spectacular entertainment

It boils down to this: Go see “Dreamgirls.” 

Lyric’s production at the Civic Center is beautifully directed by Michael Baron, who has assembled an extremely effective team.  The show benefits from perfect lighting by Helena Kuukaa, an elegant and streamlined set design by Adam Koch, and tour-de-force costumes by Jeffrey Meek; this is Meek’s 100th show with Lyric, and he continues to set a standard few local designers can rival. 

Set from 1962 to 1972, “Dreamgirls” follows the careers of women who are originally the Dreamettes, and later the Dreams, and the demands, corruption, and racism of the music industry.  The music was perfect throughout; the quality of all the performances in all the styles presented was stunning.  Conductor and music director Andrew Bryan has produced a full and beautiful sound; on rare instances the music overshadowed the voices, which is a chronic sound balance issue in theatre.  Lyn Cramer’s choreography was brilliant, showing the developing and changing styles of performance as the group moves from the fringes of R&B to the top of the mainstream charts.

The performances were all spot on; Kristina Love and Tinasha LaRaye played Lurrell and Michelle, the backup singers who are content to be part of a successful act.  Each gave us a woman struggling with personal issues and content to be one of the voices behind the star.  The star, put in that position unexpectedly by their manager, was Anna Uzele as Deena; Uzele gave a nuanced performance as Deena moves through self-doubt and relationship struggles to self-awareness and independence.  Her counterpart and rival, Effie, is played with bravura by Tiffany Mann who does not so much steal the show as carry it with guts and grace.  Do not miss Mann’s performance.

The antagonist is the smarmy and unprincipled manager, Curtis, who was played by Isaiah Bailey.  The slightly oily and deceptively subtle corruption of Bailey’s performance is critical to the plot; his performance was an understated foundation of the whole story arc. W. Jerome Stevenson played Marty, another manager, who eventually takes on the discarded Effie, and Stevenson’s raw, pushy Marty is a perfect mirror and balance to Bailey.  Singer Jimmy Early is played with tremendous style by Kyle Taylor Parker, who brought to life a man struggling with an irregular personal life and a manager who pushes him to more and more artificiality in his art.  Denzel Edmondson played C.C., Effie’s brother and an aspiring songwriter; he has his own struggles with art, business, and relationships, and Edmondson gave him a solid presence in the story.

It’s a beautiful show.  If you are looking for a night of spectacular entertainment, go see Lyric’s “Dreamgirls” at the Civic Center.

However, if you want an evening of thought-provoking theatre that challenges privilege and examines the subtle micro-aggressions of racism and sexism, go see “Dreamgirls.”

It’s hard to miss the sexism of the 1960s: Effie’s independence and self-confidence are what initially attract Curtis’ attention, and that very self-confidence and independence is what he seeks to undermine and control.  When he wants a ‘whiter’ aesthetic in order to move the group more mainstream, he discards Effie and substitutes Deena in the group and eventually in his bed.  Deena’s final struggle to claim power in her own life and career is ultimately successful, and Curtis loses almost everything because he missed his chance to be supportive vs. controlling.  Jimmy, in his relationship with Lurrell, keeps reassuring her that she’s the one he loves, even though he won’t leave his wife, and her growth to independence eventually leaves him behind.  For the men who recognize the value of being partners, whether in business or in personal relationship, the outcome is much better.  Marty and C.C. support Effie and help her find her own voice; C.C. also treats Michelle with respect and achieves the kind of stable relationship that everyone else seems to be chasing without success

No matter how you see it, you can’t miss with Lyric’s “Dreamgirls.”Performances are in the Civic Center Music Hall at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; there is also a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Go to or call (405) 524-9312 to purchase tickets.

A longer version of this review also appeared on  Used by permission.

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