Sunday, August 9, 2009

Non Traditional Casting

Before I even begin expressing my opinion about nontraditional casting for Dreamgirls, I felt it was necessary to research the definition of non-traditional casting. 
Here is the definition that i found most informative: 

Non-traditional casting is defined as the casting of ethnic minority and female actors in roles where race, ethnicity, or sex is not germane...Non-traditional casting is actually realistic casting...

I believe that theatre is about expression through the telling of a story. In my opinion it is the job of the director to bring that story to life in a manner that is engaging and most importantly, believable. When a person believes what they are seeing or reading, they are more receptive to listening and hopefully through an engaged audience, the voice of the play's message can be heard. 
Although Dreamgirls has many universal themes, such as the importance of relationships and the whole notion of pursuing one's dream, the story is told through the African American experience. Therefore, the script makes reference to prominent African American establishments (where the majority of people were "African American"), African American lingo and experiences regarding racism toward African Americans in the mid 20th century.  Furthermore, the characters are inspired by real people; prominent African Americans who had flourishing careers in the music industry during the late 50's, and through out the 60's and 70's. 
With all this being said, it would seem (or in my opinion, should seem) out of place to see any  race other than African American, portraying a story that is derived from an African American setting and experience.  Non traditional casting for Dreamgirls, in my opinion, would not be germane, and therefore unrealistic. 
However, I do find it interesting that the producers of the 2009 Broadway Revival of Dreamgirls have produced the musical with an all-Korean cast in Seoul....hmmm, interesting. In this case, I am sure that the theme of this production isn't focused so much on themes of segregation and discrimination based on racism. And as society is pushing forward and becoming more and more socially integrated, maybe it makes sense to see themes that are more relevant to our time, being focused upon. My only question is, "I wonder how much it distorts the historical context of the play, as well as the intent of the playwright?" 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Program Notes

When I hear the name The Supreme's, The Shirelles or The Vandelles, a million pictures fill my mind. Immediately, my thoughts are submerged in images of glitz and glamour. I see red lipstick, sequined gowns, glitter, high heels and fantastic wigs. A world where perfection and fantasy exist in reality. The images are flawless. On the surface, one might see this extraordinary world in Dreamgirls, the story of an African American girl group that breaks American racial barriers and reaches the pinnacle of success in the music industry.  However, if you dig a little deeper, you find that this story also presents the darker side of fame, success and human nature, as it carries you through the harsh reality of the entertainment industry. 

Most importantly, Dreamgirls is about exploring the dynamic of relationships.  Through out the show we see discrimination, friendship, betrayal and corruption: issues between the characters' that transcend the historical context of the play. At some point or another, we can relate to the situation at hand, and sympathize with the each character regardless of their race, sex or ethnicity. Although the plot centers around African Americans fighting for success and equality in the music industry, this musical is embedded with several universal themes that every human being can relate to: the joy of love and the heartache of loss, losing a best friend, struggling to be heard,  or having a dream and working to make it come true; these are just a few examples. In the end, the most important lesson we learn is the true value of relationships. In having it all, a person can have nothing at all.  As an audience member you leave questioning your values and what is important to you. "How far would you go to achieve your dreams?" "Would it be worth the sacrifice in the end? What are you utlimately reaching for?" 

Moving forward, the setting for Dreamgirls takes place during the turbulent times of the 1960's and 1970's. It was a scary and interesting period of political, social and economic change. One of the highlights of this time was America's changing ideals about race.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcom X were prominent figures in the African American community who made national headlines demanding equality for African Americans.  Protests, rioting and violence concerning segregation and racial inequality threatened to tear the nation apart. By the time the Civil Rights Movement started picking up momentum and grabbing the attention of political authorities, it was clear that America's racial issues could no longer be ignored; they needed to be resolved, and a change was coming.  Coincidently, the Dreams cross over into mainstream American audiences and climb their way to the top during a period in time when the  racial barriers and walls of segregation that stood, were just waiting to fall. In comparing the past with the present, it is interesting to see how drastically the social structure of America has changed. However, to this day the road to success in any form of enterainment requires hard work and to some degree, still requires the breaking down of political and social barriers. 

America is an amalgamation of different races, cultures, and ethnicities. It is amazing to see how this melting pot of people has developed and impacted America's art history, particularly in music. 
There is no doubt that African American's have contributed tremendously to America's rich musical history. The history of Motown records is deeply reflected in Dreamgirls, and gives a glimpse of the enormous impact it had on African Americans, as well as Caucasian Americans, and the history of music. Furthermore, if it wasn't for the establishment of Motown Records there would be no Dreamgirls story. Motown opened the door for African America voices to be heard by the world. The company birthed and nurtured talent that served as the inspiration for many of the character's and stories in Dreamgirls.  The success of this record company is immeasurable and regarded as a national treasure in America's music history. 
Furthermore, if you pay attention, you will find that the character's in this musical are reflections of some of the most profound African American artists' in music history. They represent people who broke racial barriers, inspired musical legends of the following generations (black and white), and gave America an escape from the issues that threatened to divide the nation, at the time.  Names that immediately come to mind are: James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Shirelles, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson. Moreover, the characters' in Dreamgirls represent the voices of all the African American singing groups who emerged during the 1950's-1970's and filled America with the rich sounds of R&B, Soul, and Pop music. 
Along following the journey of the Dreams and their rise to stardom you will be entertained by the show's marvelous spectacle, but if you dig a little deeper, you will see that this musical has more to offer than just glitz, glamour and fabulous music.  

Friday, August 7, 2009

Definition: Dream

"an aspiration; goal; aim
a wild or vain fancy.
something of an unreal beauty, charm, or excellence."

Definition: Kaboodle

"take your cat, kit, and kaboodle
take your broken down car, your smelly cigar
and just move, move right out of my life" (lyrics for Move)

"–noun Informal.
the lot, pack, or crowd: I have no use for the whole caboodle.

kit and caboodle"

Meaning of the name: Claridge (C.C. is short for Claridge Conrad White)

from the Middle English, Old French female personal name Clarice (Latin Claritia
meaning ‘fame’, ‘brightness’, a derivative of clarus ‘famous’, ‘bright’).
habitational name from Clearhedge Wood in Sussex, which is probably named with Old English cl?fre ‘clover’ + hrycg ‘ridge’.

Exploitation of African American Music
Happens all the time, baby! Pat Boone had the big hit with Fats'
"Ain't That A Shame" and Elvis covered Big Mama Thornton's "Hound
Dog." That's the way it happens in the world of R&B."(Marty quote)

"In her 2002 article in The Guardian, Helen Kolawole claimed, “Black music never stays underground. White people always seek it out, dilute it and eventually claim it as their own … This is fine, but be honest about it.” But Elvis Presley, in his public statements at least, consistently was “honest” about the debt his style of singing owed to black rhythm and blues."

History of Soul Music

"Style of U.S. popular music sung and performed primarily by African American musicians, having its roots in gospel music, and rhythm and blues. The term was first used in the 1960s to describe music that combined rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz, and rock music and that was characterized by intensity of feeling and earthiness. In its earliest stages, soul music was found most commonly in the South, but many of the young singers who were to popularize it migrated to cities in the North. The founding of Motown in Detroit, Mich., and Stax-Volt in Memphis, Tenn., did much to encourage the style. Its most popular performers include James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin. "

Pop Music

"Pop music is a music genre that developed from the mid-1950s as a softer alternative to rock 'n' roll and later to rock music. It has a focus on commercial recording, often orientated towards a youth market, usually through the medium of relatively short and simple love songs. While these basic elements of the genre have remained fairly constant, pop music has absorbed influences from most other forms of popular music, particularly borrowing from the development of rock music, and utilizing key technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes."

Rise of Disco

And I'm telling you, our version of "One
Night Only" will revolutionize the music industry. (Curtis quote)

"Style of dance music that arose in the mid-1970s, characterized by hypnotic rhythm, repetitive lyrics, and electronically produced sounds. Disco (short for discotheque) evolved largely from New York City underground nightclubs, in which disc jockeys would play dance records for hours without interruption, taking care to synchronize the beats so as to make a seamless change between records. Artists such as Donna Summer, Chic, and the Bee Gees had many hits in the genre, which peaked with the release of the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). Disco faded quickly after 1980, but its powerful influence, especially its sequenced electronic beats, still continues to affect much of pop music."

Backup vocalists
"Ladies I have the break of your lives! The Great Jimmy Early is in need of some back up help." (Marty quote)

"Working as a backup singer can give a vocalist the onstage experience and vocal training they need to develop into a lead vocalist. A number of lead vocalists such as Richard Marx, Mariah Carey, Cher, Gwen Stefani, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, and Elton John learned their craft as backup singers."

The Apollo Theatre

The Apollo Theater in New York City is one of the most famous music halls in the United States, and the most famous club associated almost exclusively with African-American performers. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the home of Showtime at the Apollo, a nationally syndicated variety show consisting of new talent.

"why do we need wigs in the first place?" (Effie quote)

"Before the days of synthetic hair production, wigs were normally made of human or animal hair. Wigs and hairpieces again came in to fashion in the 1960’s, and demand for the product suddenly soared."

Motown Recording Studio

This was a picture taken from an actual recording studio at Motwon Records in the 1960's.

Cadillac Car

Picture of a 1960 Red Cadillac Eldorado Convertible

The Apollo Theatre
Located in Harlem, New York,
this world renowned African American Theatre is legendary for its discovery of some of the most influential African American artists' in American history.