Stage review: PMT delivers a 'Dreamgirls' dream team
March 15, 2017 12:00 AM
LaTrea Rembert portrays Jimmy in the Pittsburgh Musical Theater's production of "Dreamgirls."
Anastasia Talley has the role of Deena in the PMT production of "Dreamgirls." s
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Dreamgirls” dramatizes an era when Motown ruled the airwaves, girl groups were all the rage and the power was in the hands of the men who ran the music machine.
The show hit Broadway in 1981, and, as the lyric goes, “Dreamgirls will never leave you.” A new generation discovered the show when it was turned into a 2006 film for Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson to strut their stuff.
The musical requires a large cast with voices that range from Broadway to soul, and on that, Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production now at the Byham Theater delivers its own dream team. The Dreams (based on The Supremes) are led by Pittsburgh native and opera singer Adrianna M. Cleveland as diva Effie White, a belter with attitude whose pride gets in the way of her future. Soprano Anastasia Talley, who also comes from the opera world, is perfectly cast as Deena (think Diana Ross), and Pittsburgh actress Delana Flowers is a revelation as Lorrell, who just wants everyone to get along.
The small-town girls are scooped up by manager Curtis Taylor, a manipulative Cadillac dealer who sees the Dreams as his entry to the music industry and creating a crossover sound. Monteze Freeland, who is working nonstop these days — including co-starring with Ms. Flowers in the recent play “JH: Mechanics of a Legend” — displays a powerful singing voice as the man who comes between Effie and Deena and determines to make music that can crossover into the white pop charts, with the prettier, blander Deena front and center.
Effie is eventually ousted from the group, leading to the number that earned a Tony for Jennifer Holliday and an Oscar for Jennifer Hudson — Effie’s declaration and plea, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
Ms. Cleveland was up to the task, even when stuck far upstage from a strong orchestra that sometimes overwhelmed the singers. The big number was performed behind a long table according to the original Michael Bennett choreography, as veteran director Bob Durkin stayed true to Mr. Bennett’s work, with some modifications.
At Friday’s performance. it was a shame any time we couldn’t hear LaTrea Rembert, the night’s biggest crowd-pleaser as Jimmy “Thunder” Early, the libidinous soul singer with piled-high hair and Jame Brown-esque moves. Other standouts in the cast include Jason Shavers as a veteran manager wary of Curtis’ manipulations and the dancing, singing True Tones — Paul Fields, Ryan Jackson, James Royce and Malic Williams.
The costumes by Tony Sirk feature enough sequins, feathers and fringe to keep Bob Mackie stitching for weeks on end, and are front and center on Jeff Perri’s minimalist sets. Watch for a well-executed quick change mid-number by Ms. Cleveland, while the wigs by Christopher Patrick placed both guys and ladies firmly in the 1960s Motown scene.
“Dreamgirls” imagines the behind-the-scenes relationships that shaped Motown, an American story currently making a splashy UK premiere. Here in Pittsburgh, the dream has reawakened at the Byham Theater through Sunday.
PMT’s “Dreamgirls,” Byham Theater, Downtown, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $9.25-$54.75; pittsburghmusicals.com or trustarts.org.
Bricolage to team with CMOA
Bricolage Urban Scrawl’s annual version of March Madness produced six one-acts in 24 hours and set the stage for the announcement of Bricolage Productions’ next large-scale theatrical immersive experience: in partnership with Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History Oct. 12-Nov. 19, the project will meet “at the nexus of art and science ... within the museum and its interstitial spaces.” Also, “Immersive Encounters,” more intimate experiences, start April 21.
The B.U.S. fundraiser at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture began Friday, when six writers (Gab Cody, Kim El, Gayle Pazerski, Dave Harris, Sloan MacRae, Mark Clayton Southers) took bus rides in Pittsburgh, and 24 hours later, six short plays were created and produced onstage, with local actors and directors.
Bricolage husband-and-wife leaders Jeffrey Carpenter and Tami Dixon, with Deana Muro on keyboards, got the performance part of the evening started with a musical theater medley featuring their own lyrics.
The six live shorts included comedy and drama, poignancy and politics, understanding and violence, plus a, um, shall we say, full moon, in a raucous finale.
CLO Cabaret’s ‘Pump Boys’ extended
CLO Cabaret’s country-flavored “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will keep on rolling at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, through April 30. Tickets for remaining performances are available at clocabaret.com or 412-456-6666.
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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