‘Dreamgirls’ strives for glitz and glamour
Trevail Maurice wanted to see “Dreamgirls” in Youngstown, even if it meant he had to direct it himself.
Maurice appeared in a production of the musical last year staged by the Millennial Theatre Project at Akron Civic Theatre.
“I realized how important the show was to that demographic in Akron and thought this would be amazing to do in Youngstown,” he said.
When he did some research in the Youngstown Playhouse archives and discovered the theater last did it exactly 30 years ago, he was even more determined to make it happen. He agreed to direct the Henry Krieger / Tom Eyen musical, which opens the Playhouse’s 2019-20 season on Friday.
“Dreamgirls,” which won six Tony Awards during its original 1,500-performance run and spawned a 2006 film version that was a box-office hit and won two Academy Awards, isn’t an easy show to stage.
“The music is hard, the choreography is jazz,” Maurice said. “There are lots of costumes.”
The musical tells the story of the fictional rise and fall of a Supremes-like girl group called the Dreams.
“It’s a story of love, a story of hope,” Maurice said. “It also has challenging moments. It’s a story of betrayal, self-reflection, reconciliation, being accountable for your actions and what those actions can do for your future.”
Maurice drew on his theater contacts, both locally and from the Akron production, to help cast the show.
Joshua William Green plays Curtis Taylor Jr., the music producer who discovers the Dreams. He’s no stranger to the Playhouse stage, but he’s gone on to appear in national tours of the musicals “Ragtime” and “Finding Neverland” and backing Sam Smith on the Grammy Awards.
James Major Burns plays James Thunder Early, a soul singer the Dreams are touring with, and a performer whose career is fading as their star is ascending. Burns, another Playhouse vet, recently completed his first professional gig as Donkey in “Shrek the Musical” at La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro.
Sharleen Riley from Cleveland reprises her role from Akron as Effie White, the lead singer of the Dreams who is fired by Taylor.
“To see the the progress from when we did it a year ago to now, she just embodies the character,” Maurice said. “She’s going to blow this audience away. Her vocal control is just amazing. She’s really truly talented.”
The other Dreams are played by Jennifer Zamis and Arielle Green, and the rest of the cast includes Myra Corley, Karrington Griffin, Martin Charles, Courtney Bailey, Wayne Bonner, Cynthia Bryant, Shelbi Clay, Michael Cotton, Tay’ler Cox, Thomas Fields, Blair Floyd, Toshi B. Hudson, Keith Ian, Jessica Joerndt, Gary Johnson, Tylon Johnson, Jacinda Madison, Derc Montgomery, Heather Powell, Emelia Sherin and Jaylynn Smith.
Getting a cast that could sing the songs and execute the dance moves was only one hurdle. Maurice and the technical crew also had to create show biz glamour on a community theater budget. The setting moves from the Apollo Theater to Miami Beach to the Crystal Ballroom and other exotic locales, and costume changes accompany all of those shifts. “Dreamgirls” features two costumers, Therese Pitzulo and Wendy Akers, to handle the workload with Leslie Brown and Maurice as set designers, Ellen Licitra as lighting designer and Johnny Pecano as technical coordinator.
Maurice said it is important to get those details rights. One of the things that appeals to him about “Dreamgirls” is that it’s not show about slavery and oppression, like “The Color Purple.”
“We’re doing it and doing it well on a community theater budget,” he said. “That inspiration is part of the show. Even when the odds are against you, you still can overcome. That’s one thing I’ve learned from ‘Dreamgirls.’ There’s no such thing as luck. What we perceive as luck or success is only achievable when you have hard work and that hard work meets opportunity. If opportunity presents itself and you didn’t work hard to get there, you would not be successful.
“I feel that’s a message the African-American community needs to hear. Yes, we’ve been oppressed for years and years, but at the end of the day, we are responsible with the knowledge we have to make the decisions to be better. That comes with hard work, and now we have the opportunity to do so. I feel that’s what this show is about.”