<i>Dreamgirls</i> shows its enduring appeal

Award-winning musical delves into aspects of '60s pop culture

by John Beaufort

After touring Dreamgirls internationally since the fall of 1985, a marvelous company of actor-singer-dancers has arrived at the Ambassador Theatre to confirm the enduring appeal of the 1981 award-winninig Michael Bennett musical.

A production somewhat modified in terms of scenic embellishment has lost nothing - and perhaps even gained in emotional appeal.

The performance comprises an ebullient tribute to Mr. Bennett as Broadway showman extraordinaire.

In a Playbill note to theatergoers, Bennett explains that Dreamgirls "is a show about a time in American musical history when what is called rhythm and blues blended with other styles of popular music, creating a new American sound.

ìAct I is set in the fabulous '60s ñ a time when Americans were still screaming at Elvis and listening to the Beatles but were dancing to the new beat of countless girl and boy groups Iike the Supremes, the Marvellettes, the Temptations and the Shirelles. Act II shows the creation and the arrival of disco ñ though the word is never used in the script.

"The subject matter of this play deals with a musical contribution to America of such importance that only now ñ two decades later ñ are we beginning to understand."

Bennett also points out that Dreamgirls is not just about singing, dancing. and performing but "also about the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry - the business part of show business that made possible this cultural phenomenon."

The sleazier side of the business drives the complex unfoldment devised by playwright-lyricist Tom Eyen and composer Henry Krieger.

The plot concerns the machinations of a hustling ex-car salesman (Weyman Thompson), who manipulates his way into the management of an aspiring Chicago girl group (Alisa Gyse, Lillias White, and Arnetia Walker). He also steals a reigning soul singer (Herbert Rawlings Jr.) away from his longtime manager and uses payola to fight the war of the charts.

The interwoven libretto and musical numbers advance the human drama of shifting loyalties while encapsulating the pop-musical developments mentioned by Bennett.

Dreamgirls is a rich mixture of personal histories, show-biz saga, dazzling dance movement and songs in various styles and moods. The musical rewards reach their unsurpassed peak in "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," which Miss White ñ as did Jennifer Holliday in the original production ñ makes a hauntingly anguish, cry from the depths of heartbreak.

The creative associates responsible for the original Dreamgirls collaborated on the present version. They include Robin Wagner (scenery), Theoni V. Aldredge (costumes), Otts Munderloh (sound).

The production was supervised by Bob Avian with Michael Peters as co-choreography and Marc Falcon as musical director. Dreamgirls is announced to stay at the Ambassador for six weeks.

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