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'Dreamgirls' drastically changed at HRT

LINDA ARMSTRONG Special to the AmNews | 9/7/2012, 1:23 p.m.

There is a danger that exists when you perform a production that is well-known to many people, either through past stage productions or through movies. When it comes to the musical "Dreamgirls," there is definitely a certain consistency and respect that should be given to the storyline.

This weekend, I saw a production of "Dreamgirls" mounted by the Harlem Repertory Theatre. The company's director and choreographer, Keith Lee Grant, did not seem to worry about any such dangers, as he took far too much dramatic license with this beloved musical. He changed the storyline multiple times. He had characters like Jimmy Early participating in scenes that he should not have been in, and he was given dialogue that Curtis is supposed to say.

The press release for this musical depicts Grant's version as a "more realistic approach" to "Dreamgirls." But I did not find it to be so. In Grant's retelling, Curtis not only argues with Deena about her career choices, he also slaps her to the ground; Deena and Effie are not friends at the end; and the Dreams don't stay on the stage throughout their final performance. It is also never clearly acknowledged that Deena and Curtis are married or that Deena gives Effie's people Curtis' two sets of books. Grant simply took too many liberties to allow the audience to truly appreciate what else was happening in the theater--the amazing vocal performances.

But before I talk about those, let me say, a disappointing moment for me came when I should have had the biggest thrill. When Dion Millington, who played Effie, sang "And I Am Telling You," at first I could feel the chills start to build. The anticipation was high, but as Millington sang those final words--the high point of the song--instead of letting her finish in quiet, the music started playing for the next song. All I could think was "why?" That is the biggest song in the musical, and one everyone looks forward to hearing. Why interrupt the best part?

Overall, Millington knocked her songs out of the park. She has a powerful, beautiful voice and definite stage presence. Isis Kenney, who portrays Lorrell, also has a wonderful voice. Natalia Peguero plays Deena, and she sings well, and also pulls off the acting side of the role. Oscar Aguirre gave a very focused performance as Curtis Taylor Jr. and Roberto Guzman delivered an engaging performance as C.C. White, Effie's songwriting brother. Eric Myles was entertaining as James Early. Darilyn Castillo was delightful as Michelle. Magnus Percinthe portrays Marty and at times can play it a little over the top.

If you don't mind the altered story and just want to see "Dreamgirls" for the singing, you might decide to see this production.

Harlem Repertory is at 308 W. 133rd St. For more information, visit www.harlemrepertorytheatre.com.

By LINDA ARMSTRONG

Special to the AmNews