Dreamgirls: Groovin' All Night Long

Paramount Theatre

through August 17

Running Time: 2 hrs, 30 min

Perhaps it was the pumped-up opening night crowd. Maybe it was the grandeur of the Paramount. It could have been the snazzy new costumes or the high-tech lighting. But, honestly, these were merely delightful accoutrements to what really made the Zachary Scott Theater Center's latest incarnation of Dreamgirls a goosebump-inducing experience. The incredibly talented performers, with their electric enthusiasm and well-honed skill, prove that this company can kick all of the advance buzz about this production up Congress and back, while singing a spine-tingling tune, on-key and with glorious harmonies.

Dreamgirls, Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger's musical, isn't long on plot. It follows the trials and tribulations of a Sixties girl group, the rise and fall of their careers and relationships, while it gives the audience a glimpse of the backstage workings and seedy underbelly of the entertainment business. Director Dave Steakley meticulously captures the sentiments behind both the upbeat and soulful numbers with his fast-paced staging and metered choreography. Some of the numbers, such as "Steppin' to the Bad Side," pop off the stage and into the audience's lap largely because of the movement provided by Steakley and company member Jason Brooks.

But it is the girls themselves who really make this production a dream. Judy Arnold shines as the innocent Lorrell, forever doomed not to sing lead in the group or with her man. Guest artist Yolanda Williams is incredible as Deena Jones, a woman desperately seeking her own identity. However, enough cannot be said about Jacqui Cross' forceful performance as the turbulent Effie. Cross' voice finds the bottom of your soul, toys with it awhile, then yanks it right out of your body. Yes, she is that good.

The men, though, hold their own against this passel of divas. T. Mychael Rambo gives a warm performance as the James Brown-esque James Thunder Early and Kenneth Williams brightens the stage as C.C., Effie's gullible yet talented brother. Roderick Sanford, with his incredible voice and onstage charisma, works magic with the Cadillac-salesman-turned-monomaniacal-promoter Curtis Taylor, Jr.

John Orr's lighting design makes excellent use of the Paramount's limitations and the Cyberlights, the computer-assisted robotic lighting equipment programmed by Tinez, are an exciting addition. Michael Raiford's sparse sets and clever costumes keep the action flowing. Perhaps the only drawback to this entire production is Bill Dean's louder-is-better sound design. While the substantial volume adds to Steakley's "wall of sound" concept, it can be overwhelming and muddy, partially due to the intermittent amplification problems that kept cropping up opening night.

Despite these technical blemishes, this production grooves all night long, proving once again that Steakley and company know exactly what they are doing and have the massive amounts of talent necessary to pull it off. -- Adrienne Martini


John Henry Faulk Theatre

through August 10

Running time: 1 hr, 50 min

No one ever listens to a kid. It makes no difference what a kid is saying -- that his closet is infested with a gory, ghastly ghoul or that her heart is inflamed with the passions of true love -- everyone always discounts it just because the kid is a kid. Grown-ups and other kids alike write off what a kid has to say, assuming he or she is too young to know what he saw or she's feeling or that she's making things up to get her way or imagining what he wants badly to believe is true.

But there are reasons to listen to kids. Precisely because they're young, they have sharp eyes. Their vision has yet to be dimmed by age, and it can often see things clearly that older eyes can't. That much is clear from this original family musical from kidsActing. In it, it's the kids who first spy the extraordinary in their ordinary worlds, the first to perceive what's false and what's true. And when they're finally listened to, they're proven to be right.

Like kidsActing's other original musicals -- The Velveteen Rabbit, Bugs, and Goldie (a fish story) -- Monsters! comments on human behavior through non-human characters. Most of this story takes place in a world of monsters, where it's impolite not to slurp and burp at the dinner table and the size of a monster girl's ears are a measure of her maturity. With their skulls sporting ridges, horns, and tufts of brightly colored fur, and their appetite for live bugs, these monsters may seem different from us, but they aren't so much. Monster moms and dads reminisce about their youth, monster sisters and brothers tease each other, and nobody listens to monster kids, either. That's the problem facing Ybbob, a monster boy who believes in humans but can't convince anyone else they exist. So when he discovers a portal to the world of humans, he determines to capture one and bring it back. Only what he ends up bringing back is a friend.

As much as anything, the script by Dede Clark and Cori Stern is a plea for tolerance, another favorite kidsActing theme. Though we may look different from each other, we're all the same. Or, as Willie Nelson puts it in the song he contributed to this musical, "We're all a blur under our fur." Nelson's whimsical spin on a noble sentiment typifies the spirit of the show: exploring weighty themes with irreverence and fun. The other songwriters who wrote numbers for Monsters! -- Conrad Deisler & Hank Card, "Omar" Dykes, Steve Fromholz, David Garza, Jimmy LaFave, Robert McEntee, Jan Bozarth & "Beto" Skiles, and the show's musical director and resident keyboard wizard Noel Alford -- seem to have taken to the project in a similarly playful spirit, and the young performers certainly have. The two dozen teens and pre-teens in the cast warble and kick and giggle and devour worms with apparent good cheer and sometimes real friskiness. On a curmudgeonly note, the production is a little rough in appearance, with set and costume pieces that look to be making do rather than making a design statement. This saps some of the imaginative energy out of the show, but only some. There is plenty left in the script and songs and performances to keep the experience pleasant and charming.

And all it takes is one chorus of one musical number by one of these budding young artists to remind you, with feeling, that it's a good thing to listen to a kid. -- Robert Faires

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