Sunday, November 22, 2009

And I'm Telling You I'm Going...

And I'm Telling You I'm Going...

Nearly 28 long years after Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's Dreamgirls first took Broadway by storm, a new revival is opening tonight a few miles to the north at Harlem's estimable entertainment shrine, the Apollo Theatre. Seems especially appropriate and exciting given that Dreamgirls begins with an off-stage announcer intoning, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Apollo Theatre continues its legendary talent contest..."

Directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom, this Dreamgirls stars Moya Angela in the coveted role of Effie Melody White, Syesha Mercado as Deana Jones, Adrienne Warren as Lorrell Robinson, Chaz Lamar Shepherd as Curtis Taylor, Trevon Davis as C.C. White and Chester Gregory as James "Thunder" Early.

If you're a regular reader of Steve On Broadway, you know that this ranks among my all-time favorite musicals, which I first saw almost a quarter century ago when a touring production visited Washington DC's National Theatre.

That 1986 incarnation of Dreamgirls starred Sharon Brown as Effie (she would ultimately replace Lillias White in the brief 1987 Broadway revival), Deborah Burrell as Deena Jones (she had originally portrayed Michelle Morris on Broadway and ultimately replaced Sheryl Lee Ralph as Deena Jones), Lawrence Clayton as C.C. White (Clayton had served as a replacement to the original C.C. Obba Babatundé), Herbert L. Rawlings as James Thunder Early (Rawlings would revisit the role in the 1987 revival), Weyman Thompson as Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Thompson had various roles in the original Dreamgirls and replaced that production's first Curtis Ben Harney; he later originated the role of Curtis in the 1987 revival) and Arnetia Walker as Lorrell Robinson (a role she would reprise in the '87 Broadway revival).

As I've previously noted, when I first saw Dreamgirls, there was something so vital and raw that took hold within me. The story about Effie Melody White was so overpowering that it became a standard by which I judged other musicals. I was completely awed by its intense emotional honesty and gorgeous, rich score.

By the time I had actually seen Dreamgirls in 1986, the original show had already opened and closed on Broadway. The musical first opened at the Imperial Theatre on December 20, 1981 and closed on August 15, 1985 after 1,521 regular performances. But I had the opportunity to see Jennifer Holliday perform what would become her signature tune "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" at the 1982 Tony Awards. I was simply blown away by her heartfelt performance as she recreated her heartthumping visceral rendition, which you can see here.

Since 1986, I've enjoyed two enormously entertaining opportunities -- both in Atlanta -- to witness the great Jennifer Holliday perform on stage as Effie Melody White. But now the torch has been passed to a new generation with the start of a national tour, officially kicking off with its November 22 opening at the venerable Apollo Theatre, the landmark that has given rise to so many legendary performers throughout its storied history. Reports indicate that the show will not only tour internationally, but that there's even a chance it may return the New York City for a possible Broadway berth.

I'm hoping and praying that director Longbottom does not disappoint (as he unfortunately did with the current Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie). I'm happy to report that the advance buzz I'm hearing from an array of voices I trust is that this could very well be a dream come true.

And I'm telling you, I'm going to be at the Apollo soon with a full report on my own experience.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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