On Stage: Dreamgirls

If you can only make it to The Muny once this summer, you should probably go this week. Despite the heat.

While the first three shows of the season were great and the next three will probably be fine as well, there’s just something special about the current production of “Dreamgirls,” which opened Monday and runs through Sunday at the outdoor theater in Forest Park. Fortunately it’s not one night only.

Most of the attention for this show has been placed on Jennifer Holliday, who is reprising the role of Effie, for which she won the Tony Award for best actress in a musical when “Dreamgirls” opened on Broadway back in 1981. Her powerhouse performance is certainly the highlight of the show — but it’s far from the only impressive thing about this production.

Written by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger, “Dreamgirls” is the story of a singing trio trying to break into the music business in the 1960s. Effie (Jennifer Holliday) is the group’s temperamental lead singer. The girls are taken under the wing of Curtis Taylor Jr. (Christopher Jackson) who secures them a gig as backup singers for James Thunder Early (Milton Craig Nealy). Curtis has big plans for The Dreams, but when the time comes for them to venture out on their own, he chooses the more attractive Deena Jones (Demetria McKinney) to step up front.

Where to begin? First off, Holliday is every bit the performer we were promised. As expected, she blew the roof off The Muny stage (an impressive feat given there is no roof) with the Act One closer “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” She also delivers with “I Am Changing” and “One Night Only.”

If you just had Holliday this would be a great show, but everyone in this cast was impressive. The ladies’ harmonies were impressive and the men gave an inspired performance with “Steppin’ to the Bad Side.” If I had to mention all the great singers I would have to just list the entire cast, and I’m too tired to do that, but I would like to give special mention to Milton Craig Nealy as James Thunder Early and Jenelle Lynn Randall as Lorrell Robinson. Those two were exceptional.

Everything else about the show was first-rate — the costumes, the choreography, the set design. The only downside is the weather and sadly you cannot air condition an outdoor amphitheater. Drink plenty of cold beverages and bring a fan. Dress for the heat, not for the theater.

“Dreamgirls” runs through July 22. http://www.muny.org/


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