Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 9, 2023

Review: Goodspeed Musicals, “Dreamgirls”

Goodspeed Opera House, Haddem, CT
through December 30, 2023
by R. Smith

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
“Dreamgirls” is a veiled variation on the turbulent story of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Berry Gordy and Motown Records. Perceived as a more “recent” show (it premiered in 1981) it is probably one that newer theatergoers have heard of but never seen. Even the Hollywood adaptation came out 17 years ago. Although having a large cast, and being ostensibly about group dynamics and family, it is individual elements that stand out in Goodspeed’s latest revival. 

When the ensemble works, it is in the group musical numbers that lovingly recreate the Motown sound, especially in the first part of the first act which is a rapid-fire musical journey through the mid/late 1960s. The title song, for instance, is spot-on “girl group.” There’s also some doo-wop, smooth R&B and even a little disco.

Then there’s the star making “(And I am Telling You) I’m Not Going” which belongs to the character of Effie. Even though the character is not immediately sympathetic, by the time this showstopper comes along, she’s earned the right to her pain. Director Lili-Anne Brown’s notes indicate that the first priority was to cast actors who happen to also sing and dance well and this Trejah Bostic, as Effie, certainly does. The powerhouse number succeeds because it is driven by emotion as much as vocal prowess and Bostic delivers both.

Mykal Kilgore’s character Jimmy (a James Brown surrogate) has just as many trials and tribulations as the title characters, and may actually have made for a pretty solid show just on his own. Jimmy is a lot of “id” and that requires comedy, pathos, manic energy and sheer personality to make the audience love him as they do. Kilgore’s facial expressions, line delivery and other-worldly singing voice exudes the force and depth of his talent. The energy level of the show is elevated each time he is on stage.

Much credit must be given to the performers and director for overcoming some inherent weakness in the book, which doesn’t give the characters much depth but rather relies on archetype. Ta-Tynisa Wilson, as Deena, especially, does all she can to give a very passive character some life, with her body language and presence. Never given her own true solo moment, Wilson still makes you take notice when she gets to step up and sing.

The show is full of visual excitement as well, evidenced by Samantha C. Jones costume design that spans almost 2 decades. Even the proscenium of the stage is bedecked in a shimmering fringe.

It is fitting that Goodpseed, with its mission of preserving and reviving American musicals, has staged this production and thoughtfully engaged an artistic team that brings a unique and appropriate authenticity to the production. While not an all-out, non-stop blockbuster, “Dreamgirls” has amazing moments of musical theatre greatness that should be seen by any devotee of the genre.