Sunday, January 17, 2010

Show Biz, Just Show Biz

Cover of "Dreamgirls"Cover of Dreamgirls

After stomping countless miles to the Dreamgirls soundtrack,
I finally saw it.
And was thrilled,
and puzzled.
The new tour of the Broadway musical had reached Minneapolis -- my chance to see what the buzz was all about.
After less-than-stellar performances of amateur night at the Apollo which open the show, the Dreamettes entered and the thrill began. The mic'ing was not perfect,but Henry Krieger's score (Krieger had been composing for Captain Kangaroo!), Tom Eyen's libretto, and the zip of Michael Bennett's original production propelled it forward. Right up to the number that is supposed to stop the show: Effie's performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
It did stop the show - for the wrong reasons. An understudy -- a fine singer -- was on for Effie. She'd rocked the group numbers and the audience thought she sang the heck out of this one.
But she didn't have the chops to act it. And more melisma, which came gushing out of her, was not the answer.
This production was swimming with melisma.

And melisma was not enough to move the second act. Second act problems are common, but I'd never heard of second act problems with Dreamgirls. Was it the direction of this production that made it so weak? Lack of actor skills? Or poorly written?
I went running to the library to read source material and reviews of the original production which was workshopped several times before it opened on Broadway, and incorporated improvisations by cast members including Loretta Devine's mumbling, "Show biz , just show biz".

Still it takes a creative genius to shape (and edit and hone) the contributions of actors, writers, designers, musicians; and when that genius is gone.....what happens?

In his 1981 New York Times review ("Rich Dessert Without the Main Course"
Walter Kerr lamented the book, the score, even the concept; "tinsel and only tinsel". In the same paper, Frank Rich thought the show was Michael Bennett's claim to greatness, though he, too, quibbled with the "overpat and frantic plot resolutions of act two."
So, what was it? Weak production? Weak second act?
This much I can tell you: It was not this.

This is greatness.

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