Chicago, grab your tickets and fasten your seat belts for what is without question the most exciting, energetic and electrifying piece of musical theater to hit the Windy City in years. Imagine a thrilling, pulse-stopping theatrical equivalent of Space Mountain. "Dreamgirls" is a roller-coaster ride of fast-paced staging, dynamic choreography, powerful, heartfelt songs and enough spectacle to fill three theaters. In addition to a terrific cast and orchestra, this production features a set that incorporates moving digital panels of pulsating images and lighting effects that seamlessly transport the audience from onstage to backstage and to various locales around the world. Add to this William Ivey Long's stunning, colorful fashion show of costumes, many of which change onstage right before your eyes, and you have an event that truly brings Broadway to Chicago.
Enough credit cannot be given to director/choreographer Robert Longbottom. He has remastered this 1982 Tony Award-winning musical by infusing it with energy and focusing on the importance of family and the price of fame. The show feels very now, very today. In his dual artistic capacity, Longbottom has staged the production - which has the feel of a modern operetta - like a pop/rock concert that runs full tilt, pausing only momentarily for dialogue, allowing the music to both entertain and create the drama.
The musical is a thinly veiled biography of Diana Ross and the Supremes, but actually centers around The Dreams, a fictional 1960s African-American girl group, and their rise to fame. Each actress brings star power to The Dreams, both collectively and individually. Moya Angela's Effie is a temperamental vocal powerhouse whose lover/manager ultimately betrays her. Bringing down the house with her gut-wrenching Act I finale, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," Ms. Angela leaves her heart and soul on the stage. An "American Idol" runner-up, Syesha Mercado grows up before our eyes as Deena, the shy, insecure backup vocalist who becomes the beautiful, independent lead singer of the Dreams. And Adrienne Warren's backup singer Lorrell plays second fiddle to no one, especially when striking a blow for her own independence in "Ain't No Party."
Chester Gregory stops the show several times with his dynamic portrayal of James "Thunder" Early. Gregory has the power, the voice, the athletic moves and the over-the-top personality of a James Brown R&B superstar, and might be reason enough to see this production. But this remarkable production is the sum of all its parts, filled with strong performances, a memorable score and fine artistry. However, since it is in Chicago for only a limited engagement, audiences will have to hurry if they're going to catch a ride on this soul train.