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.  

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