Monday, November 23, 2009



Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen, Music by Henry Krieger, Additional Material by William Reale Directed by Robert Longbottom at the Apollo Theater. (CLOSED)

I'll admit it, dear reader, I'm quite flummoxed by this crop of reviews of Dreamgirls, the new touring version of the musical that just opened at The Apollo. The majority of the reviews damn with faint praise at best (except in regards to Chester Gregory's performance as Early, which gets universal raves), and yet enthusiastically recommend the show. You get a real whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts from this crop of reviews. Either that, or the standards of our criterati are slipping mightily. The New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli struggles to find anything positive to say about the show, and yet finds it thoroughly entertaining. Ditto Joe Dziemianowicz at the Daily News and Linda Winer at Newsday, who writes that Longbottom's choreography is lackluster but also calls his work "capable" and says it almost makes you forget Bye Bye Birdie, his recently-staged disaster at Roundabout. Part of the key to this revival's success is that it performs in the Apollo, where the musical's opening and closing are set, which adds a layer of meaning and resonance usually reserved for experimental site-specific work. Or perhaps the key lies in this sentence from the Variety review: " as a road property, it's top-tier," raising the question... does this Dreamgirls benefit from low expectations as its not performing on Broadway, despite having a Broadway design team and director?

Backstage A
(David Sheward) National tours are often viewed as knockoffs of Broadway originals. The limited run of Dreamgirls at the Apollo Theatre may be the first stop of a national tour, but this electric revival is anything but second-rate. The location alone provides an added zing, as many of the crucial moments take place at the Harlem landmark. But real estate only goes so far. Director-choreographer Robert Longbottom has rebounded from his misfired staging of the Roundabout Bye Bye Birdie with a dazzling and energetic production. In no way beholden to the 1981 premiere edition by Michael Bennett or Bill Condon's 2006 Oscar-winning film version, this "Dreamgirls" is fresh, alive, and bursting with talent.

Newsday B+
(Linda Winer) Most important, this Dreamgirls has the young singing actors it needs to deliver both the music and the meaning of the Tom Eyen-Henry Krieger score. Moya Angela, as the most talented but overweight Effie, takes hold of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" with such power and subtle phrasing that we're forced to stop comparing her with Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson, who made their names on this role and this song.

Time Out New York B+
(Adam Feldman)
Much of the recitative is not first-rate, and although this revival is well designed—from Robin Wagner’s mobile metallic panels, often swathed in video, to William Ivey Long’s droll period costumes—it is not always well directed; Robert Longbottom adeptly handles the many cinematic fades between onstage and backstage drama, but the more intimate scenes lack finesse. The weaknesses melt away, however, under the heat of the show’s standout songs, especially as performed by Angela and the extraordinary Chester Gregory, a walking lighting bolt as the irrepressible James “Thunder” Early. The show may not always be dreamy, but I am telling you: Go.

Bloomberg B
(Jeremy Gerard) Bennett invented a staging vocabulary that advanced the form while still paying tribute to his predecessors. Robert Longbottom, the revival’s director and choreographer, is a hack; every dance sequence is a cliche, every dramatic scene soap- operatic and lacking imagination. Yet what Angela, Gregory and their colleagues (especially the other Dreamettes, Adrienne Warren and Syesha Mercado) supply for the ear via Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s expansive score, Ivey Long supplies for the eye: a dizzying succession of ever more spectacular gowns (can there be any sequins left in the Western hemisphere?). So yes, this Dreamgirls is a show with killer looks, music to spare and a couple of new stars in its pocket.

Hollywood Reporter B
(Frank Scheck) Although Longbottom's staging and choreography pales next to the original, he's done a fine job with several numbers, especially Steppin' to the Dark Side, which employs those LED screens with imaginative flair. And the nifty quick costume changes produce the desired dazzling effect. Henry Krieger (music) and Tom Eyen's (lyrics) score remains an effective pastiche of '60s styles. It has here been augmented with two additions: What Love Can Do, the second-act opener, and the Effie/Deena duet "Listen," written for the film, which serves as a strong 11:00 number. The production also gains immeasurable resonance from its being presented at this intimate and historic venue, where the opening and (for this version) closing numbers are actually set.

TalkinBroadway B
(Matthew Murray) The mere fact that Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s 1981 musical has been given an 85-percent production after the heavier stumbles of the 2006 film adaptation is almost gift enough. Granted, given the original’s four-year run, its almost immediate revival on Broadway, and the starry 2001 Actors’ Fund concert, the show has never really gone away, but Longbottom, despite a few lapses in judgment, has taken significant steps to ensure that it stays at the forefront of our consciousness for the foreseeable future.

TheaterMania B
(Brian Scott Lipton) There's no doubt that the role of Effie White in the Henry Krieger-Tom Eyen musical Dreamgirls, now launching its national tour at the Apollo Theatre, is a star-making one. Just ask Jennifer Holliday, Lillias White, and Jennifer Hudson! But there's no guarantee that whoever portrays the fiery singer will end up as a lasting luminary in the firmament. Still, my money's on relative newcomer Moya Angela, whose intense, deeply-felt performance as Effie is the red-hot center of Robert Longbottom's enjoyable if slightly too cool revival of this timeless backstage musical.

New York Post B
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) A touring production hatched in South Korea, it feels spare not by design but by necessity. William Ivey Long designed hundreds of costumes, but the wigs look kinda cheap, the orchestra is too small and the basic set consists of five floor-to-ceiling rotating panels that double as LED screens...And yet, this Dreamgirls is incredibly entertaining, even when the seams are showing...Despite some missteps -- using the ensemble as fake orchestra members is cheesy, and the projections evoking a tour are somehow garish and banal -- the show plows through with gusto, grit and guts. Perfect for Dreamgirls.

New York Daily News B
(Joe Dziemianowicz) If you've never seen Dreamgirls on stage, it's worthwhile. And though it doesn't hit euphoric heights, there's an exciting vibe that the hit film can't capture. Plus, you can't beat the added you-are-there bonus since the Apollo is where the show's plot begins and ends.

Variety B-
(David Rooney) There's bad news and good about the much-anticipated revival of "Dreamgirls," kicking off, like the action of the show itself, on the storied stage of Harlem's Apollo Theater before a national tour. Cultists of the 1981 musical about an African-American girl group's rise to success might have been hoping for a Broadway-caliber production that would demand a midtown New York return. In most ways that count, this staging falls short of that wish. But as a road property, it's top-tier, packaged to travel and stuffed with vocal talent that does justice to Henry Krieger's sensational songs and helps compensate for stiff acting and a shortage of emotional clout.

NYTimes C-
(Ben Brantley) The show’s opening scene, Amateur Night at the Apollo, pulses with the plethora of talent onstage, of raw and enthusiastic performers who may well acquire polish and star shine. The people playing those amateurs are much more advanced than that. But their characterizations cry out for greater texture and variety. This show’s greatest asset and deficit is its momentum, which is too relentless for comfort. To feel fully — and Dreamgirls is a show that can make you cry real tears — you have to be able to breathe.

Village Voice D+
(Michael Feingold) Robert Longbottom's new production, sadly, won't erase any memories of Bennett's. Visually ineffective despite its fancy digital displays, and featuring loud, one-dimensional performances, the new Dreamgirls loosens the show's grip till it might seem to be just another extravaganza, though the writing still grabs you. Only Chester Gregory, spectacularly effective as an egocentric r&b star, breaks through the production's built-for-touring torpor.

BS A 13; ND B+ 11; TONY B+ 11; TM B 10; BB B 10; HWR B 10; NYP B 10;TB B 10; NYDN B 10; Variety B- 9; NYTimes C- 6; VV D+ 5; TOTAL: 115/12=9.58 (B)

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