MODESTO — The new year is starting off right at Modesto's Gallo Center for the Arts with a roof-raising touring production of the musical "Dreamgirls."
Big League Productions' staging, which ends its run today, is a showcase of R&B and soul sung by performers with huge voices that can blow the house down.
The show, which follows the rise to fame of a Supremes-like girl group in the 1960s, got a rousing standing ovation at the end of Friday night's opening performance.
It was too bad more people didn't get to enjoy it. There were many empty seats, including completely empty rows in the Rogers Theater. Maybe it was because the show was scheduled too soon after Christmas and theater fans are short of cash after spending money on gifts.
Created by Michael Bennett with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, "Dreamgirls" opened on Broadway in 1981 and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including best musical. The movie came out in 2006 and starred Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and "American Idol" contestant Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress.
The show opens when the singers in the girl group are only in their teens and follows them through adulthood, through ups and downs in their professional and personal lives. The show's main theme is about female empowerment. Some of the biggest applause Friday night came when the singers told off the selfish men in their lives.
All the singers in director Robert Longbottom's touring show are strong, but the brightest star is Charity Dawson, who plays the Hudson role of Effie White. The character is an amazing vocalist who is replaced as lead singer in the girl group the Dreams by a less talented vocalist deemed more beautiful by the group's manager.
Dawson packs an emotional punch in the show's most famous song, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." She makes the audience feel her deep pain at being rejected from the group she loved so much. She shows a softer, sweeter side in the beautiful ballad "I Am Changing."
Jasmin Richardson offers glamour and class as Deena Jones, the singer who reluctantly replaces Effie. Mary Searcy provides fireworks as feisty Lorrell, the other original member of the Dreams.
Aubrey Poo is slick and confident as Curtis Taylor Jr., the ambitious manager who drives the Dreams to become A-list stars. Terrance Johnson is kind but weak as songwriter CC White, Effie's brother.
The male cast member who is the most fun to watch is Michael Jahlil as erratic soul star James "Thunder" Early, who gives the Dreams their first big job as his backup singers. A highlight of the show for me was watching him do his funky, free-spirited rap "Jimmy's Got Soul" when he gets tired of singing the restrained sad songs that Curtis has chosen for him.
William Ivey Long's glittery, high-fashion vintage costumes are another highlight. The Dreams' stunning gowns come in every color of the rainbow and in every style, from African to disco queen. Robin Wagner's sets are minimal, but spotlights and video projections provide enough excitement. The 10-piece band rocks the house.
"Dreamgirls" is a dream come true. Don't let this one pass you by.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313.
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. today
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 40 minutes, including an intermission
INFORMATION: (209) 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org
Star Guide **** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor