The 1981 showbiz musical gets an intimate and eye-popping Porchlight treatment.
Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen only made one Broadway musical together, but it was a doozy. Dreamgirls, which follows a Supremes-like singing group from their first flush of teenage success through ups and downs in the music business, and the personal strife that comes with it, has likely endured because it was already looking back with nostalgia even in its 1981 premiere. Krieger’s pop-pastiche score infectiously cribs evolving fashions from ’60s soul through to ’70s disco, while Eyen’s book effectively marries family-drama dynamics with backstage glamor (even if his lyrics are less inspired).
Brenda Didier’s new production, playing Stage 773’s small Thrust space, feels somehow fuller than most bigger and bigger-budgeted stagings I’ve seen of this show. That’s due in part to exquisite casting: Donica Lynn finds new shadings in the iconic role of Effie, who’s been indelibly stamped by Jennifers Holliday and Hudson, and sings the stuffing out of tunes like “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and “I Am Changing”; as her sisters-in-arms, Candace C. Edwards and Katherine Thomas match Lynn for compelling charisma, while Eric Lewis gives 110 percent to the role of James “Thunder” Early, Dreamgirls’s version of the hardest working man in showbiz. Musical director Doug Peck, who’s no stranger to this show, deserves a good chunk of credit as well for the high fidelity of this production’s period sounds. To echo Eyen’s theme-hammering lyrics: Didier’s production handles like a dream.
Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773. Book and lyrics by Tom Eyen. Music by Henry Krieger. Directed by Brenda Didier. With Donica Lynn, Candace C. Edwards, Katherine Thomas, Kyrie Courter, Evan Tyrone Martin, Eric Lewis, Gilbert Domally. Running time: 2hrs 40mins; one intermission.