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Story by Andy Argyrakis
No matter what the version, "Dreamgirls" tells the tale of a Motown-styled girl group called the Dreamettes who are trying to break into the soul scene circa the early 1960s. There's the heavyset though hands down vocal highlight Effie White (played by the brand new and boisterous Moya Angela), along with the most radiantly beautiful group member Deena Jones ("American Idol's" Syesha Mercado) and her best friend Lorrell Robinson (Adrienne Warren). While everything seems above board as the trio backs fictional R&B hero James "Thunder" Early (the impeccable Chester Gregory), a desire to branch out on their own starts brews up plenty of drama backstage.
Vaguely similar to the real life story of the Supremes (though writers deny any inspiration from Diana Ross and company), Deena gets promoted to lead singer because of her looks, while Effie's role is downplayed because of her weight. To make matters worse for Effie, the group's name is changed to Deena Jones & the Dreams just before a headlining Las Vegas residency, though Effie is fired before opening night. In addition to the dismissal, she's replaced by Michelle Morris (Margaret Hoffman) before being personally told the news, to which she belts out the show's spine-tingling signature song "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (albeit to no avail).
The second act parallels both Deena and Effie's career, which as expected, is shining for the former and failing for the latter. But as more behind the scenes personal details about both parties (and their love interests) are revealed, a reconciliation is eventually reached in a somewhat unusual manner, reigniting the ladies' friendship, even if their levels of fame landed in remarkably different stratospheres. Nonetheless, all the girls wind up on the same playing field by the time the "Dreamgirls" theme is sung during a concert that simultaneously serves as a reunion and farewell.
Though the forgiveness angle is touching, the soundtrack remains the most moving aspect of the musical, with this particular cast coming across like full-fledged divas in the making. As a result, "Dreamgirls" not only has appeal for old school Motown-era fans, but also anyone looking for hook-heavy, soulful pop songs sung by the next generation's potential stars.
"Dreamgirls" continues at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through January 31. For addition details, visit www.dreamgirlsonstage.com or www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
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