Dreamgirls at the Dramat

When I wrote about the Yale and Harvard Glee Clubs in concert at the start of Yale/Harvard weekend, I mentioned that the Yale Glee Club was intending to perform a piece by a Yale student but decided against it because the composer was not in attendance.  I speculated that the composer might be immersing himself in highly intellectual endeavors, and I was wrong.  He was conducting the Dramat show, DREAMGIRLS.  And from the look of things, he was having a blast.

I have to admit, I am not a big fan of DREAMGIRLS.  I loved Motown back in the sixties and into the eighties, and I never really felt the music in the show reached the level that it might have, but then, the music doesn’t really come up to the level of a musical, either.

The show tells the story of  three talented black women from Chicago, who break into show business as one of the many female trios that thrived in the early 1960s.  Effie, who has the strongest voice in the group, must change places with a supporting singer, Deena, because while Effie has the better voice, Deena has more star power.  Resentment, complicated love affairs, and show business shenanigans make life complicated for each of the women, but all is forgiven by the end, as they all embark on their own personal adventures.

The song that everyone waits for is,  I’m Telling You I’m not Going.  Just like people wait for Memory in the equally uninspired CATS.   The rest of the music is not in any way memorable. The song was written as a “showstopper” and Jennifer Holliday was credited with stopping the original Broadway cast of DREAMGIRLS, and won a Tony in 1982 for her portrayal of Effie.  Jennifer Hudson did NOT win American Idol but DID win the Academy Award for playing Effie in the movie version in 2006.

Aissa Guindo, who played Effie was terrific as Effie.  I have heard many people sing THE song over the years, and in most cases I find the singers going way too far with it. Jennifer Holliday has sung the song in a very self-indulgent, “I’m going to expose every vein in my body” kind of way, that I find completely impossible to sit through.  Thankfully, Ms. Guindo is a far more sensitive performer who seems to know, even in her youth, that too much is not always the best way to go. She sang the song, and the entire show with impressive professionalism for a student of her age and experience.  Although there were times when she and other singers veered from the pitch in an effort to put in more melismas than were necessary.

Christoper Augustin, as Curtis, who is not a Yale student, but does work in the theatre community in New Haven did a fine job, and had some real stage presence.  He let us down a bit with his voice, and the pitch problem I mentioned seemed to be particularly evident in his singing. Anita Norman was hilarious as Lorrell, and the very lovely Elayna Garner was the graceful Deena, who found stardom as the singer in the middle.

Choreography by Sanchel Brown had a LOT to do with hand movements, and at one point, inexplicably had someone float across the stage on roller skates, holding a fan. That only got worse, when they crossed back to the other side a moment later.

The audience was enthralled with the show, and the ovation went on for quite some time. The cast and crew made The Women’s Recovery Group their spotlight charity.

The Yale Dramat has a long tradition of drinking from the Cole Porter chalice, prior to their opening night performance. The chalice was a gift to Porter from his father while he was a Yale undergraduate. The actors must pledge,

“To cleave wholly unto the Dramat and to uphold its tradition of fine theatre.”

Oh! The humanity!

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