Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe


Musical Theatre Southwest / African American Performing Arts Center
Review by Rob Spiegel

Courtesy of Musical Theatre Southwest
There's a lot going on in this feisty splash of a musical. In Dreamgirls, the old R&B world of race records gives way to crossover dreams by young black artists who aim for big hits on the white Billboard charts. This is Chicago's Chess records getting beat by Detroit's Motown on the streets of Teenville USA. You can see it in the musical styles of James "Thunder" Early (Hasani Olujimi), a James Brown/Jackie Wilson character who gets traction with a black audience, contrasted with a Supremes-like group designed to appeal to young white America called the Dreamettes, which includes Effie Melody White (Patricia Brown) and her friends Deena Jones (Alexandra Germain) and Lorrell Robinson (Jasmine K. Bernard).

We know how that battle turns out. Yet the creation of the Dreamettes is complicated when manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Lowell Burton Jr.) chooses Deena to be the lead singer over Effie, who clearly has the superior voice. Deena is prettier and she has a lighter tone that Curtis deems more acceptable to a mainstream audience. Even Deena is aghast as Effie is relegated to a backup singing role. But they go along, at least at first, because of the stars in their eyes.

Love affairs, of course, are flying here and there, which further complicates that relations between management and artists. The whole scene is a painful mess that is made glamorous by the singing, dance, and outrageously beautiful dresses (nice costume design by Shannon Scheffler and Katy Jacome).

With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, Dreamgirls debuted on Broadway in 1981, running nearly four years. Jennifer Holliday's version of Effie's song "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" hit number one on the R&B Billboard Chart in 1982. A hit movie full of stars eventually followed in 2006. Yet, even while the songs do a nice job of illustrating the stylistic difference between classic R&B and the 1960s Motown and Phil Spector girl-group music, the music and lyrics are serviceable but not exceptional. But the show is still a gas.

Director Ashley Murphy provides spectacular casting, blending some of Albuquerque's finest actors with some of the city's best singers who are doing stage drama for the first time. The result is a combination of solid acting chops alongside exceptional singing. Vocal standouts include Brown as Effie and Olujimi as James. It's critical that Murphy chose an amazing vocalist as Effie so she can display power that Deanna can't match. And yet Germain as Deena has a lovely, though lighter, voice. The casting gives deep authenticity to the story.

This production is a joint project between Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS) and the African American Performing Arts Center. The companies moved to the lovely African American Performing Arts Center (usually used by MTS just for its holiday productions), which up-levels the presentation nicely. This is an exceptional production, one of the best we've see from MTS, and that's saying a lot, since the company is coming off a multi-year string of superb productions.

The cast includes dozens of performers in full song and dance action, with popping live music by Joel Gelpe and his 11-piece orchestra and terrific choreography by Kale Brown. The lighting design (Lucas Zuniga) and set design (Wendy Cutcher) are excellent, and special kudus go to hair design (Cameron Illidge-Welch) and make-up design (Victoria Wiley),

Dreamgirls, presented by Musical Theatre Southwest and the African American Performing Arts Center, runs through February 23, 2020, at the African American Performing Arts Center, 310 San Pedro NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. General admission is $25. For seniors, students, and ATG members, admission is $23. For reservations and information, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at