TANIKA BAPTISTE RAISES THE ROOF AS EFFIE WITH A POWERHOUSE CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM,
BRINGING MOTOWN TO BERKELEY
The powerful sounds of R&B fill the Julia Morgan stage this fall as Berkeley Playhouse opens their eleventh season with the soulful musical, DREAMGIRLS. The story of Motown and the rise of rhythm and blues is now on BPH stage through Oct 21. Based on the famous successes such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others. The musical follows the story of a young female singing trio from Chicago, Illinois called "The Dreams", who become music superstars. It was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical, and won six. It was later adapted into a motion picture from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures in 2006.
With music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen, the original 1982 Broadway production, directed by Michael Bennet, gave birth to the iconic songs, “And I Am Telling You” and “One Night Only.” Founding BPH Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy says “Dreamgirls is the perfect opener for our eleventh season - we are challenging ourselves to fight for our dreams—to find stories that empower, energize, question, and find strength in community.” Producing Artistic Director Kimberly Dooley says the powerful women in this story find their voices while finding fame;“It reflects how success can change even the strongest of families and how music can bring two people--or a generation-- together”.
Director/choreographer Brendan Simon along with music director Michael Patrick Wiles have assembled a remarkable cast of Bay Area’s best to stage this inspirational story. Director Simon and his cast, have pulled out the stops and pumped fresh life into this 1981 Tony-winner. Simon says he has dreamed about directing this show “Our waking experiences are captured through a dreamlike lens, the world of “Dream Girls” explores the beauty, the cost, and the uncertainty of pursuing individual and collective dreams.”
DREAMGIRLS tells the story of three young singers from the early sixties as they look for their big break in the music business. “Move (You’re Steppin’ On My Heart)” is an upbeat opener that allows you to meet the entire company including the early ‘Dreamettes.’ The ensemble is infectious under Michael Partick Wells music direction. DREAMGIRLS gives us a glimpse behind the scenes as we see drama with their managers, lovers, and other stars who challenge the trio from reaching their dreams.
Simon keeps the focus firmly placed on the relationships between the characters. The power of the production lies in their very human performances and beautifully emotive vocals. The rotating set rolls from a backstage to a performance view becomes a character in this production. Award winning set designer Nina Ball created many environments that transition through the space with such ease. The changes from the Apollo, multiple clubs, different dressing rooms, studios and streets are so smooth.
The fresh “Cadillac” number features the company leads including the terrific Tanika Baptiste as Effie White. Baptiste is the Dreamette who sings the hit, show stopper “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”. She brings her own take with this iconic song and absolutely SLAYS it. Baptiste has no trouble bringing the emotion and her full volume voice to the Julia Morgan stage. She tops herself with the second-act solo “I Am Changing.”
Marissa Rudd and Loreigna Sinclair shine as Deena and Lorell, the other two original members of the Dreamettes. Their many songs include “Dreamgirls” that is a showstopper. The group grows from local naivete singers' to Las Vegas royalty, even as they fight social pressures to cross over to mainstream white audiences. The three are flawless in all of their numbers especially “Move” well choreographed by Simon. The girls also are dynamite in “Baby Baby” that also features the dazzling local favorite Marcel Saunders as James “Thunder” Early.
The issue of race becomes more critical to Jimmy, whose a James Brown like character that has to ‘tame’ his act up to tend to his white audiences; however he still gets to show off his swagger while singing and gigging to songs like “Walkin Down The Strip.” Early gets some of the show's best lines and comic moments that Saunders handles with such ease, demonstrating his winning voice and smooth dance moves. He does not get to stay with the main trio throughout the show, because they prove their own worth.
The proud Stephen Wilson is the slick manager Curtis Taylor, Jr., who presents his awesome vocals with “Stepping to the Bad Side” and his duet “You Are My Dream” with the incandescent Deena Jones. Curtis molds the Dreamettes to get their music to the pop charts and bring them the fame they’ve been denied. In Curtis’s plan, they adjust some wrinkles in the more soulful music, to make it more appealing to the wide range of white audiences.
The splendid Kris Anthony Williams as CC White, Effie's brother and songwriter,steals the stage when he teams with Baptiste in the song “Family.” Other standouts include the compelling Chanel Tilghman as Michelle, the replacement singer, who blends with the Deena and Lorell perfectly in the memorable “One Night Only”. The dapper authentic Shawn J West finds the complexity of the older agent Marty, “The T” plays Wayne and the MC who ushers parts of story as he introduces the acts throughout the two and half hour musical. Vida Mae Fernandez, Jennifer Frazer, Elizabeth Jones, and Tiana Paulding are tuneful as the “Les Styles”. The gifted Cadarious Mayberry shows off his powerhouse voice in the song “The Long Way Home”. The vibrant Joe Ayers, Johnny Davison, Ella Ruth Francis, Katie Lannitello, Aurelia Jordan, Montel Nord, Zach Padlo and the high kicking Isaiah Collins standout in the company dance numbers.
The show looks and sounds terrific the impeccable Wiles leads a vibrant and balanced eight member pit. Associate music director Nick Perez keeps the vocals strong and all the featured solos rock. Simon's choreography is well organized and does not distract from the impeccable vocals. Nina Ball’s turntable set creates a rhythmic pulse throughout the show, and Jon Tracy’s brilliant lighting design brings a Vegas class to the numbers. The set includes lights on the wonderful marque that surrounds the dream of this story. Sound designer Lyle Barrere and audio tech Josh Price had a huge task as they continue to keep this musical sound super, with the mix in the pit and the non stop 27 songs in this show.
Bethany Deal’s costumes lend just the right vibe of sixties flair, giving us a style evolving through the era as well that complimented the characters. Deal keeps the three women in shimmering gowns, furs and tops her talent in the second act when the women take on their marvelous Vegas-like looks. The men are all in clean slick earth tones, allowing the gold tux jackets to add the perfect class to the high end production numbers. Props by Celeste Martore include some authentic makeup tables, classic studio mics and old dial phones. Stage manager Shannon Reilly and her team Erin Sweeney and Brigid Ridge kept the turn table set moving with slick dance moves.
DREAMGIRLS is a powerful show, and this cast is full throttle. More important than being a show-biz fictional biography, it’s a ride into the bumpy integration of American popular culture. Director/choreographer Simon kept all the elements of this story of Dreams into a cohesive show that brought the sold out weekend audience to their feet. Next up at the BPH is their fall fundraiser Halloween weekend October 28th with elegant food and desserts. Then Nov 9th BPH holiday show THE WIZARD OF OZ, and in June 2019 look for the Bay Area Premiere of BIG the musical. But in the meantime join the Dreamettes and the huge sound of DREAMGIRLS. You could attend this musical strictly as a concert and have a great night out.
Berkeley Playhouse Presents
Music by Henry Krieger, lyrics and book by Tom Eyen
Original Broadway Production
Directed by Michael Bennett
Directed and Choreographed
by Brendan Simon
Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles
Must close October 21
Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave. Berkeley
Running time: 2 hours, 30 min one intermission
Tickets: $25-$40; 510-845-8542
Pay What You Can performances Oct 18th
Photos by Ben Krantz Studios
THE CAST Marissa Rudd, Stephen Wilson, Loreigna Sinclair, Marcel Saunders, Tanika Baptiste, Kris Anthony Williams, Shawn J West, Chanel Tilghman, Jennifer Frazier, Tiana Paulding, Elizabeth Jones, Vida Mae Fernandez, Cadarious Mayberry, The T, Montel Anthony Nord, Isaiah Collins, Johnny Davison, Zach Padlo, Joe Ayers, Katie Iannitello,Ella Ruth Francis, and Aurelia Jordan
Video Promo DREAMGIRLS
PAY WHAT YOU CAN performances, Thursday, October 18 at 7 pm. The promotion is CASH ONLY at the door one hour prior to performance time. They request a donation of $20 per ticket but are able to accept
a minimum of $5 per ticket.
ABOUT BERKELEY PLAYHOUSE: Founded in 2007 by professional theatre actor, director, and teacher for over 25 years, Elizabeth McKoy, Berkeley Playhouse’s mission is to create theatre and programs that engage, ignite, and celebrate diverse Bay Area audiences through a thriving conservatory, a professional mainstage season, educational outreach, and a commitment to the development of new family musicals. In support of our mission, we maintain and enhance the historic Julia Morgan Theater. A commitment to community, diversity, inclusion, and empowerment is at the heart of our work.