I absolutely love the tradition of fabulous musicals with important social messages that Mark Clements has established at the Milwaukee Rep. There’s no reason that you can’t think about real life issues while also listening to great songs, and Dreamgirls is a hit for a reason. It does a great job of dealing with things like racism in the music industry, the struggles of fame, manipulative partners, and more, all with a healthy dose of glitz on top.
I knew a little bit about the costume concepts from the Dreamgirls meet & greet presentation, but they were serious stunners in person. I’m a big fan of vintage fashion (as anyone who knows me IRL is sure to have noticed), and I particularly adored the frothy girl group 1960s looks from the first act, not that Act 2’s 70s style wasn’t totally disco-fab. But the clear delineation between the two acts is in large part thanks to the costumes and styling of all the characters. It was obvious as soon as the lights came up in Act 2 that we were somewhere totally new. I also really loved the minimalist art-deco inspired set design, which lent a lot to the feeling like we were at some fabulous club to see a killer act like The Dream(ettes).
It’s no surprise that Nova Y. Payton, who played Effie White, totally owned the show. Effie is the emotional heart of the show, and Payton did an amazing job. She has an incredible voice; she sang the iconic “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” at the previously mentioned meet and greet, out of costume and with just a piano accompaniment, and I knew that seeing her in the show for real would be a revelation.
The other breakout performance of the show for me was Cedric Neal as James “Thunder” Early. He was an electric presence in every scene he appeared in and came seriously close to stealing the show entirely; all of his numbers made me feel like I wasn’t at a play anymore…I was at a Jimmy Early concert and totally thrilled to be there. I’d never been so disappointed to be seeing a show from up in the balcony as when he waded into the crowd. I left feeling like I’d like to just go see a Jimmy Early show. Too bad he’s fictional!
Definitely do not miss the chance to go see Dreamgirls. I had such a great time that I’m seriously considering trying to get back and see it again before the run is through, and I am telling you…you should be going! (Is that the corniest wordplay to date on this blog? Probably.)
Dreamgirls runs through November 1 in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.