“Dreamgirls” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – August 5, 2023


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Mainstage Theatre
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Back in 1981 when “Dreamgirls” debuted, it was one of the first musicals to use a score rooted in contemporary musical sounds without traditional Broadway showtunes.  The story told a fictionalized tale of a bright young R & B singing group, The Dreams, that was loosely based on The Supremes, James Brown, and The Shirelles.  It’s not an easy show to produce because it mandates lavish sets, glitzy costumes, and dynamic lighting.  Most significantly, the story is plagued by melodrama so the musical is rarely seen.  The hard luck tale is filed with performers who lack the professional discipline required as they drive their producers wild.

The Phoenix Theatre Company staging is the first local production in years so expectations were high.  The show’s creative team is largely imported.  “Dreamgirls” remains a wonderfully throbbing tribute to Henry Krieger’s soulful music but it’s less dynamic when Tom Eyen’s dry book and bland lyrics get in the score’s way.

The TPTC staging dazzles during the songs and the cast handles the musical moments with professional elan but the acting and the tedious sob story makes for a long performance between the zing and pizazz of the musical moments.  The show lumbers when the music stops and the story takes over.

The production is also plagued by disappointing scenery which fails to suggest the lush showrooms where the team performed as they broke down racial barriers with a thudding crash.  The hit-and-miss lighting often leaves performers in unflattering illumination but Mallory Prucha’s glittery costumes provides the visual allure that the Dreams used to help it eliminate wrongful segregation in entertainment.

The TCTP production is pedantically staged by Daryl Brooks with mediocre choreography by Christopher Chase Carter that keeps the show from creating the sparkly effervescence of the showrooms where much of the show is set. Of the cast, Antonio King shines throughout as the stuck-up Jimmy Thunder Early who initially champions the Dreams and helps them soar to fame.

The big role of Effie White, one of the Dreams, was originally essayed by Jennifer Holliday with stirring aplomb.  Here, it is tackled with great vocals by Miciah Lathan but she isn’t as solid in acting the spoiled diva.  Holliday stopped the original production with the first-act closing aria “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” and Lathan duplicates this achievement.  The rest of the huge cast employes abundant energy but doesn’t bring the characters to the realistic lives required to move the show beyond its soap-opera antics.

TPTC’s spirited and often spunky “Dreamgirls” entertains when it sings but not as much when the storyline drags down the show’s exhilaration. “Dreamgirls” continues through September 3.  To order tickets, call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: B