The Dream is Back ñ And Better
by Howard Kissel
Believe it or not, the scaled-down Dreamgirls that has arrived on Broadway is a much more satisfying and entertaining show than the original.
The 1981 production of this saga about a group like the Supremes was the last word in contemporary stagecraft, infinitely subtler in its use of technology than, say, Starlight Express. But its overall tone was icy and overbearing.
It is courageous of Michael Bennett to bring back a visually less imposing production. The emphasis now is on story and character, not technical brilliance. Considering the state of Broadway now, his gesture seems unusually important and healthy.
The new cast has some great performers, particularly Herbert L. Rawlings, a sensational singer and dancer, as a wildman of rock. Lillias White has the tough job of filling Jennifer Holliday's shoes. In retrospect, the emotional weight Holliday brought to the show was too much for its slight score. White is an impressive singing actress, but, more valuably, an ensemble performer.
Much about the show itself still seems weak and obvious, but the energy of the powerful cast is so infectious you can't help being carried away by it. Plus, it now has warmth, which has been in short supply on Broadway in recent years Warmth is what sets Bennett above his Broadway peers. and it's heartening to see he has given Dreamgirls his true signature.