The North Carolina Central University Theatre’s rendition of Dreamgirls is indeed memorable. It opens with flash, boldness, and excitement, and the audience immediately transitions to the sound and vibe of Motown. From the outfits to the choreography, it is an invitation to jump into the 1960s. This musical journey follows three young, beautiful black women from Chicago, and their rise and fall in the record industry. Their heartbreak, excitement, betrayal, love, self-realization, and even deceitfulness, is wrapped in nothing greater than confusion met with the power of song.
Performing in the lead role of Effie is Candice Mayfield, whose depiction of Effie dominates the first act with her bold and assertive nature. Despite a lack of character development in Tom Eyen’s book, Mayfield’s star is not limited in the area of vocal remarkableness.
Without the powerful diction of Antwan Hawkins’ character Curtis Taylor, who introduces us to the ups and downs of show business, coupled with the humor and soul from Elijah Spencer’s portrayal of Jimmy “Thunder” Early, who is a blend of Bobby Brown and James Brown, there might be very little to take away from this presentation. This is not to deter though from some great musical performances by the ensemble, live band, and production team.
In fact, one moment that is specifically engaging happens when the cast joins the audience to perform Steppin’ to the Bad Side. The song fuses together soul with the stepping culture of a historically black college, a blend that is certainly powerful and clever.
While it is true that music can get us through anything, and Henry Krieger’s Dreamgirls’ score certainly keeps this production afloat, the play feels lighter than expected. There is a lack of emotional connection and heartwarming execution, which makes this iconic story feel rushed. Some of the disconnects may stem from the issues with sound. The music overpowered some of the lines opening weekend, and there was a repeated displeasing ring resonating from the microphones. Still, there was plenty of redemption, as the leading lady blessed the audience with her powerhouse vocals, along with a message of empowerment and growth. It is a telling reminder that at the end of the day, we are all living a journey and holding on to some dream.