Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Flint’s New McCree Theatre dives in headfirst this month to present a talent-filled production of the Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen musical Dreamgirls. The music is non-stop in this operetta-style delivery and is enhanced by the live orchestra, an added bonus in this era of recorded accompaniment.
Rumored to be the story of the rise of The Supremes during the turbulent sixties and seventies, the story traces the steps to fame followed by three Chicago girls as they try to break into the music business in New York. It isn’t just about the music though. The difficulties Black groups encountered and their attempts to please the mainstream are issues right along with the greed of the payola rampant at the time.
Director Cathye Johnson’s troupe is fairly smooth in their myriad scene transitions. We found the moves that eased the audience viewpoint in the opening number from performance to backstage quite effective. Johnson seems to enjoy working on this better equipped stage, and she takes full advantage of the versatility it offers.
Playing almost continually, Frank Pitts’ eight-piece band is terrific. Both rhythmic and perfectly modulated to allow singers to be heard, they are onstage throughout in full view at the back of the stage.
The Dreams are the stars of this show led by Alina Trionne Oliver as Effie White. Her incredible vocal power is matched by her engaging stage presence, expression and attitude. As Deena Jones, Shamarrae Porter begins as backup but steps to the front with an equally powerful vocal ability. Her innocence and ambition clash but she brings it all home nicely in the end.
Shannen Hawkins is perky and adorable as the sweet Lorrell Robinson who falls for a married man. Steady throughout, Hawkins’ voice brings the harmonies to perfection.
Of course there were bad guys back then, and Robert Powell brings guile and a touch of treachery to Curtis Taylor, Jr., the car salesman-turned talent agent responsible for the success of The Dreams. His love affair with Deena prompts the lovely ballad “You Are My Dream”, but he has a darker side that soon emerges.
One of the most memorable performances Friday was delivered by Lawrence “Chris” Young in the role of James “Thunder” Early. Young nearly brought down the house with his enthusiasm as well as numbers like “Cadillac Car” and his incredible “Rap” meltdown.
Others stood out also. In the role of C.C. White, Joshua Johnson was strong and steady as he tried to hold the girls together. And we couldn’t help but enjoy the dance stylings of Myckal Powell and Malachi Callaway.
If there is a flaw, it may be in the scene shifts, which seemed to drag at times Friday. Act one flew by, but act two seemed to lag going on for longer than musical second acts usually do. Still, this is an impressive effort and well worth the trip to The New McCree.
Dreamgirls continues through October 17. For tickets and more information please contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or find them online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com The New McCree Theatre is located at 2040 W. Carpenter Road, Flint, MI 48505 (The New Standard Academy/Formerly Powers H.S)