Friday, July 31, 2009

Prince Music Theatre 2005

Prince Music Theatre
Philidelphia, Pennsylvania
December 2005-Febraury '06

Director: Richard M. Parrison Jr.
Choreographer: Mercedes Ellington
Costume Designer: Mark Mariani
Set Design: Todd Edward Ivin

Richard M. Parrison's Jr. direction, Mercedes Ellington's choreography, and Todd Edward Ivins' simple set design -- enlivened by the frequent use of projections -- get their jobs done efficiently if unremarkably. On a higher level are Mark Mariani's superb costumes -- including a trio of what appears to be vintage Pucci dresses for a 1970s sequence -- which give the show some much needed visual pizzazz.

Mercedes Ellington has done excellent work using period movement to make the production dance. However, the movement is superfluous at times, distracting the viewer from the genius of the musical, and is used as unneeded filler during transitions between certain scenes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bower Theatre 2008

Flint Community Theatre and The New McCree Theatre
Bower Theatre
Flint, Michigan
April 2008

Director and Choreographer: Steven J. Mokofsky
Co-Producer: Charles Winfrey

In order to maintain the show's flow, the scenes are set on a huge turntable that revolves to reveal three divided playing areas. It allows for smooth transitions and few breaks in the action.

Stumptown Theatre (Oregon) 2008

Stumptown Theatre
Portland, Oregon

Director: Kirk Mouser
Set Designer: Janet Mouser
Choreographer: Montana Efaw

Are there problems? Oh, hell yeah. The chintzy set squeezes most of the non-nightclub action into a four-foot alleyway at the front of the stage, and the acting is passable at best and wooden at worst—besides Blackmon and Johnson-Weiss, none of the cast seems comfortable in his or her part once the music stops. But who cares? With singing this good, everything else is parsley.

Janet Mouser's set design is horrendous: Candy-pink steps edged in tinfoil flashing engulf a pit band that's placed smack in the center of the stage, crowding the actors onto the very front edge. Between the terrible design and Mouser's poor use of it, huge amounts of space are wasted while the cast trips over itself on the awkward steps.

Speaking of expectations, it should be noted that as a dramatic vehicle, "Dreamgirls" is a clunker. The writing (both book and songs) is hokey and schematic, a pastiche of Motown's rise and fall blended with some standard-issue romantic melodrama and a handful of stray cliches about the music business, the Civil Rights era and self-actualization. In addition, the acting here isn't seasoned or consistent enough to make the many relationships and their emotional turns feel organic.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Theatre Under The Stars 2007

Hobby Center for the Performing Art
Jones Hall Theatre
Houston, Texas
October, 2007

Director: Robert Clater
Choreographer: Lesia Kaye
Costume Designer: Theoni Aldredge
Lighting Design: Richard Winkler

If this version doesn't have quite the same visual impact, that's because Robin Wagner's production design has been scaled down considerably. The huge lighting towers that dominated, seemingly re-grouping on their own power, here are reduced to four small pillars moved by the cast. It leaves some scenes looking skimpy; the overall flow no longer the technical marvel it had seemed.

Charlotte Theatre 2009

OD Musical Company in association with Vienna Waits Productions
Seoul, Korea
February, 2009

Director: Robert Longbottom
Choreographer: Robert Longbottom and Shane Sparks
Scene Design: Robin Wagner
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Ken Billington

Other than a fantastic set and luxurious outfits, the actors and actresses’ performances deserved high praise. Not only was Hong Ji-Min’s acting and singing as Effie powerful, Jung Sun-Ah also showed enough talent to hold her place in the limelight with her glamorous look and outstanding vocals.

But it has a fresh, new look, including a minimalist set that relies on $1.3 million worth of LED lights that can replicate everything from a CBS television studio to glitzy concert halls, and project silhouettes to stunning effect.

Reviews have ranged from glowing to cautiously positive, with the brightness of the LED lights and the cast's trouble hitting the soulful low notes drawing some criticism.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Macro: The World of the Play

1. War in the World

One issue dominated world politics in the 1960s: the Cold War. The superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union faced off in a series of crises and proxy wars throughout the decade, all the while developing massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
The US had more than 500,000 troops in Vietnam by 1968 and was drawing heavy casualties.

In spite of the casualties suffered by millions worldwide from WWII, and in spite of peace treaties established by nations around the world, there was yet another reason for more war in the 1960's that would last until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1980.

2. Space Race

The Space Race became an important part of the cultural, technological, and ideological rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Space technology became a particularly important arena in this conflict, because of both its potential military applications and the morale-boosting social benefits.

As nations around the world were evolving and technology was becoming more advanced, nations began exploring the possibilities of expanding beyond the limits of earth's atmosphere.
With Americans participating in space race, a sense of unity and pride could be felt between Americans seeking to lead the world in space technology.

3. Construction of the Berlin Wall

On the evening of August 13, (1961), Governing Mayor Willy Brandt said in a speech to the House of Representatives: “The Berlin Senate publicly condemns the illegal and inhuman measures being taken by those who are dividing Germany, oppressing East Berlin, and threatening West Berlin....”

The construction of the Berlin Wall was a pivitol point in marking the rise of communism, as well as seperating the Western world from the Eastern. It also marked the beginning of the Cold WAr.
4. Nelson Mandela sentenced to prison

On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

In a time of political turmoil and injustice, the clash between unpopular government and it's citizens' led to the rise of rebellious groups, seeking to overthrow corruption.

5. Rise of Communism

The spread of "Communism" after World War II was mostly an anti-imperialist reactionary movement. Communist Parties became popular in Korea, Vietnam, China and Cuba because the people were oppressed by foreign interests within their own countries.

After WWII, communism expanded beyond the borders of the Soviet Union becoming an increased threat not only to America, but to democracy, as well.

6. 1960 Olympics held in Rome

While David Maraniss’s book is about such athletic achievement, it is also about the changing world in which the 1960 Olympics were staged. Political and social events play a central role in the story of the Rome Olympics, from the rise of Communism and the advent of the Cold War to the slow disintegration of racial barriers.

As the Cold War struggle began, America had to unify itself, and pull together the resources its diverse people thus forgetting the issues that divided them like racism and segregation (if not permanently, then at least for the time being).
7. Trouble in Israel: The Six Day War

In 1967 Israel did not wake up one morning and decide to go to war - she woke up one morning and found she had to defend herself.

The birth of Israel as a Jewish nation created tension in the Middle East that would soon create chaos in the Middle East.
Statement: The World of The Play
After watching the musical Dreamgirls one might recall the dynamic African American group of the sixties: Diana Ross and the Supremes. Although the creators of Dreamgirls deny any direct link to Diana and the Supremes, it is obvious that The Supremes experience as America's most successful female pop group in the early 60's and 70's, influenced the story line of the musical. 
For example, controversy over a new lead signer of the group, replacement of a troublesome member, and an affair between performer and manager were all incidents that happened to The Supremes and sure enough, events that also took place in Dreamgirls.  Additionally the characters in Dreamgirls seem to parallel other individuals from the hit Motown Record company. Many references through out the musical suggest sly business manager/husband Curtis Taylor, as a reflection of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records and infamous Diana Ross svengali. Also, similarities between James "Thunder" Early and Marvin Gaye are questioned. 
Regardless of whether or not it was the intention of the creators to imitate the story of The Supremes, it is obvious that the success of The Supremes and Motown (along with other popular music acts of the time) influenced the Dreamgirls storyline. 

By the end of the 1950's, America was on the verge of change. As the baby boomer generation emerged so did a new way of thinking. The sixities experienced the birth of a counterculture revolution that dramatically changed the face of America politically, economically, and socially. War, shifting values, and the cry for equality and justice for African Americans and other minorities, as well, created tensions that needed a place for release. The emergence of drugs and art served as an outlet for Americans to express themselves and forget about the differences that divided them. As laws prohibiting segregation and efforts condoning the integration of minorities into society increased, windows of opportunity were waiting to be opened by African Americans in the entertainment industry. Although it wasn't easy at first, there was no better time or moment in entertainment history for African American groups to cross over into the likes of mainstream White American audiences. And of course, it took no other but the confident, snake-like, ambitions of Curtis Taylor to see that. 

After the British invasion of the Beatles rocked American audiences in the early sixties, Pop music exploded onto the American market. The sound of pop music is classified as simple, conservative and appealing to a large audience. Record companies were quick to profit off America's hunger for pop music and made sure to give audiences what they wanted. Since profit was the main goal, and mainstream Americans craved that light, fun "pop" sound, record labels often ignored pushing soul artists. The image of the artist was driven by marketability as a whole. We see this presents a problem in Dreamgirls when Curtis makes Deena the lead voice and head of the girl group because of her marketability to mainstream America, resulting in pushing Effie aside even though she has the stronger (more soulful) voice of the bunch. Tensions then reach their climax when Effie is kicked out of the group and replace by the slimmer and more marketable singer, Michelle.

Along with the rise of the counterculture movement came the emergence of the sexual revolution. With the technological research advancements in medicine, doctors were able to treat venereal diseases as well as control pregnancies with contraceptives. This along with other events, helped trigger the exploration of  sex amongst Americans, particularly in the youth. The idea of "free love" spread across the nation and invited people to explore their sexuality more freely than before. As result, pre marital sex was more common and not looked down upon so much as it was in previous times. During a scene when the girls are in the dressing room changing, Lorell and Effie gush about their sexual experience with men and it's natural occurance between people who love each other.  This suggests that they were in tune with the notion of premarital sex that stemmed from the idea of 'free love,' which was growing increasingly popular at the time.  

The Shirelles

The Shirelles
were friends from highschool who made their break in the late 1950's and reached moderate success in R&B music industry during the early sixties

Martha and the Vandelles

Martha and the Vandelles
signed with Motown records and reached 
top 24 on Billboard charts in America
in 1964, however their success was outshined
by the Supremes

The Velvelettes

The Velvelettes
One of the first-class female group acts of Motown

The Supremes

Often referred to as "Motown Glamour" The Supremes were the most glamarous first class act of the sixties

The front cover of TIME Magazine January 11, 1960
reflecting the eclecticism of America in the early sixties

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The World of The Play: Micro View

1. The Dreams versus The Supremes 

The basic plot of Dreamgirls is derived from the history of The Supremes, a girl-group from Detroit, Michigan, which was Motown's most successful group act during the 1960s.

Dreamgirls is a Broadway musical,  with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen. Based upon the show business aspirations and successes of R&B acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others...

The success of The Dreams and their glamorous transformation from "rags-to-riches" is dramatically similar to the original  story of Motown's celebrated Diana Ross and The Supremes. In fact, several events that take place in the musical reflect incidents that happened in real life, such as the split between Effie and the Dreams. 

2. Racism and segregation in America

In the U.S. today (1967), it seems to many that violence is in the ascendant over cooperation, disruption over order, and anger over reason. The greatest single source of this fear lies in the Negro riots that keep tearing at American cities.

Segregation also took the form of redlining, the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets, to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas.

By the 1960's America was on the verge of civil war.  Protests against the war, women's rights, government, and most particularly, racism, were issues that created strong division between Americans. Even in the music industry, black artists were segregated and racially discriminated.

3. Civil Rights 

But on August 28, 1963, an estimated quarter of a million people—about a quarter of whom were white—marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, in what turned out to be both a protest and a communal celebration.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities. Projects involving federal funds could now be cut off if there was evidence of discriminated based on colour, race or national origin. 

Although we still see forms of discrimination against The Dreams and Jimmy Early in the beginning of the show, (when their Cadillac song is stolen and given to a Caucasian singing group) as time progresses, the changing times and new laws on social acceptance of different races opens doors of opportunity for the rise to fame for African American performers in the United States.

4. Baby Boomer generation  

In general, baby boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values...By the sheer force of its numbers, the boomers were a demographic bulge which remodeled society as it passed through it.

Thus the tremendous changes that transformed this country in the 1960s took place, not simply because Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower as President, but because the GI Generation replaced the Lost as leaders throughout America and because other just as far reaching demographic changes also transpired in the 1960s.

Demography is destiny, and Americans of today, in ways both obvious and subtle, are inventing the America of tomorrow.  

As America's population demographic began to change, so did the nation's way of thinking. 
Along with the growth of the baby boomer generation, came social reform and a more liberal way of thinking. The young, ambitious Curtis Taylor picks up on the changing times, and repeatedly butts heads with the older, more pessimistic Marty, whose ambitions for musical success are limited due to dated conservative and submissive was of thinking. 

5. Counterculture Movement of the sixties

In the United States, the counterculture of the 1960s became identified with the rejection of conventional social norms of the 1950s. Counterculture youth rejected the cultural standards of their parents, especially with respect to racial segregation and initial widespread support for the Vietnam War. 

Rejection of mainstream culture was best embodied in the new genres of psychedelic rock music, pop-art and new explorations in spirituality. 
In hopes of finding fame and success, The Dreamettes drop everything in Chicago and hit the road to sing back up with Jimmy Early. We find later, Deena had run away from home.

6. Pop Music

According to Simon Frith  pop music is produced "as a matter of enterprise not designed to appeal to everyone" and "doesn't come from any particular place or mark off any particular taste." It is "not driven by any significant ambition except profit and commercial reward...and, in musical terms, it is essentially conservative."

Additionally, this "pop" music is frequently aimed at a predominately white audience that is itself taken to be the "pop," or more insidiously, "mainstream" market and which therefore plays a powerful role in the marketing decisions made by the music industry. 

It is clear that Curtis Taylor knew what he was doing when he made Deena Jones the lead singer for the The Dreams. At that point he knew the best way to cross over his artists into mainstream pop in America was to give the group an image that would be most appealing to Caucasian audiences. One might even suggest that Curtis' fell in love with Deena's potential for success rather than her as a person.

7.  Fashion 

The 1960s represented a change in which Western women were free to dress in any style they chose and were accepted in society. 

From 1960 to 1970, clothing went from classic to crazy. Clothing fads blossomed because there was more money for the middle class to spend on "fun" items.

One of the main spectacles of Dreamgirls is the elaborate costuming. With all the flamboyant fashion trends of the sixties and seventies it is no wonder that the costuming for this show is as glamorous and spectacular as it is.

8. Drugs 

In late 1960s recreational drug use becomes fashionable among young, white, middle class Americans. The social stigmatization previously associated with drugs lessens as their use becomes more mainstream. Drug use becomes representative of protest and social rebellion in the era's atmosphere of political unrest.

A national survey in 1971 estimated that "24 million Americans over 11 years of age had smoked marijuana at least once," while the number of heroin users is believed to have grown from around 50,000 in 1960 to more than 250,000 by the end of the decade.

In the Dreamgirls movie the audience is made blatantly aware of Jimmy Early's drug abuse (particularly with heroin), and it is even linked to his death. As these articles state, the use of drugs exploded onto the American scene in the early sixties and spread rapidly through out the US.

9. Sexual Revolution

It was a development in the modern world which saw the significant loss of power by the values of a morality rooted in the Christian tradition and the rise of permissive societies, of attitudes that were accepting of greater sexual freedom and experimentation that spread all over the world and were captured in the phrase free love. 

With the notion that sexually transmitted diseases were easily treatable, much of the maturing post-WW2 baby boom generation experimented with sex without the need for marriage.

Effie and Lorelle both make reference to "becoming a woman" (finally having sex) and how premarital sex is not wrong at all, but rather natural and part of "being in love." This attitude reflects the popular sexual revolutionist's point of view that the exploration of sex before marriage was not wrong. 

10.  Government Welfare 

The administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson of the 1960s saw a resurgence of public interest in issues regarding minorities, the poor, and children. During this time, new welfare programs were created to help address the continued spread of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and medical problems—difficulties that plagued many of America's citizens.

After being kicked out of the group and struggling as a single parent with her daughter, Magic, Effie White leans on the support of government welfare programs. 


We're your Dreamgirls

Friday, July 17, 2009

Basic Facts


Fable with Plot Summary


Curtis Taylor, Jr. -Male

James "Thunder" Early-Male

Marty Madison-Male

C.C. White-Male


Effie White-Female

Deena Jones-Female

Lorell Robinson-Female

Michelle Morris-Female

Statement: "Characters and Casting"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Definitions of Dramaturgy

The art of the theater, especially the writing of plays.

Dramaturgy is 'the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation.'

Dramaturgy is the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage.