Dion Millington in Dreamgirls
(© Edward V. Corcino)
Dion Millington in Dreamgirls
(© Edward V. Corcino)
You have to admire the chutzpah of a director attempting to put on a musical of the magnitude of Dreamgirls in a black box theater without all the razzmatazz of costuming, lights, and fancy stagecraft for which this musical is so well-known. However, Keith Lee Grant has managed to make something special happen with his scaled-down revival of Dreamgirls, now being presented by the Harlem Repertory Theatre at the 133rd Street Arts Center.

In case you don't know, Dreamgirls, co-written by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger, tells the story of a Supremes-like singing group, eventually headed by the beautiful Deena Jones (Natalia Peguero), after original star singer Effie White (Dion Millington) is thrown out of the trio.

Grant has made a lot of smart choices in the staging, giving the show pace and speed. However, the changing of the audience seating in the second act -- allowing for a closer view of the performers -- ultimately adds up to much less than is suggested in the program.

What makes the show work as well as it does is the casting of the three lead women. Peguero is the right combination of beautiful and innocent with a light, pleasing pop voice to play the role of Deena. Similarly, Isis Kenny very nearly steals the show as Lorrell, the trio's third original member, and the way she plays her relationship with James Thunder Early (the promising Eric Myles at our performance) is funny and sassy. This young woman can sing with both bite and beauty.

Best of all is Millington's performance as Effie -- especially her performances of her big ballads, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and "I Am Changing," both of which are electrifying.

Unfortunately, the men in the production, most notably Oscar Aguirre as Curtis Taylor, the group's slimy manager who leaves Effie for Deena, simply don't live up to their female counterparts, and the production crashes to the ground when they're on stage!

Nonetheless, Dreamgirls is such a sturdy piece of musical theater that it can withstand a considerable number of production issues -- including the muddy sound design by Leal Vona and some of the ill-fitting costumes designed by Peguero -- and still remain entertaining. And with these three women on stage, it often soars.