Dreamgirls gives local actresses iconic roles in Mad Cow’s production

By : David Moran
Comments: 4

Tackling the larger-than-life production Dreamgirls is a feat most leave to large, touring theater companies. But for Mad Cow Theatre in downtown Orlando, the popular musical is a chance to flex its artistic muscle beginning June 7, and not just for the Broadway and silver screen hit’s signature number, And I Am Telling You.

Watermark Media is the proud presenting sponsor of the show, which runs through July 7.

Though Ray Hatch, the show’s director and choreographer, acknowledges seeing “Effie” sing is a huge draw, he said Dreamgirls is so much more than that.

Hatch is a veteran of the show having previously co-choreographed Dreamgirls and performed as Jimmy Early, a popular R&B singer portrayed in the film by Eddie Murphy for whom The Dreamettes eventually sing back up.

Since first opening on Broadway in 1981, the Tony Award-winning musical Dreamgirls has won over the hearts of theatergoers and movie fans in the 2006 film adaptation with its “guts and glam” story about three best friends with dreams of making it big as an all-girl, R&B singing act. As the group gets more famous, greed, love affairs and fame threaten to ruin their friendship.

The numbers have been portrayed off the Broadway stage by reality show contestants and by lip-synching female impersonators are LGBT establishments around the world.

Watermark had the chance to sit down with Hatch and The Dreamettes-Cherry Hamlin (Deena Jones), Jayne Trinette (Effie White) and Jasmine Thompson (Lorrell Robinson)-to get an insider scoop on the upcoming show.

Mad Cow’s production promises to bring the drama, the glamour and the heartbreak out in full force.

“Dreamgirls is a love story. It is a love for what you do…a love for what you aspire to do…a love for passion…a love for friendship,” says Hatch.

And the cast has a love for their characters and their many looks, he adds.

“Wigs, wigs, wigs, wigs, wigs,” Hatch laughs.

Thompson agrees.

“There is definitely lots of hair,” says Thompson with a laugh.

Thomposon’s Lorrell is the mediator between her two best friends, Effie and Deena, as they both vie for lead singer and the heart of their manager Curtis Taylor.

“People like to see glitz. Dreamgirls absolutely gives you glamour from the beginning,” says Trinette (Effie). She also jokes that it is reality TV with music-a little Real Housewives on Broadway.

The enormity of filling the iconic heels of Effie isn’t lost on Trinette, who knows she will be compared to Jennifer Holiday, who many see as the “original Effie” and Jennifer Hudson, who breathed new life into the character in the hit film with the show’s signature song, “And I Am Telling You.”

“The fear is very real for me,” Trinette says. “You have to get to place that you feel confident being on stage. That’s the strength for her. Effie knows that.”

Some fans pit Effie and Deena against one another, but Hamlin, who plays Deena, says it is more complicated than that.

“Just the other day, someone said to me, ‘You’re the mean one,'” Hamlin says. But she disagrees, saying that though The Dreamettes have their ups and downs, Curtis is the real villain of the story.

“[What happened] wasn’t something that Deena set out to do, it was more Curtis,” Hamlin says. “She’s conflicted.”

Fans of the 2006 film will notice one big difference about this staged version of Dreamgirls at Mad Cow. The Beyonce Knowles hit “Listen” will not be part of this local production. That song, an d a few others, were adapted just for the film, but the cast is hopeful that exposure from the film will encourage new and old fans to come see the show.

“One of the good things about the movie is that it brought the musical to a broader audience,” says Thompson.
Hamlin promises that Mad Cow’s version of Dreamgirls will be worth the ticket price because of the intimate setting of The Harriett Theater within the Mad Cow complex.

“It’s kind of like each member of the audience will have a front row seat at a concert,” says Hamlin.

Hatch said the intimacy of Mad Cow adds to the telling of the story.

“It implores you to pay attention to the relationships and not just lose yourself in the music,” he says. “The audience is the energy that allows the dream to happen.”

In addition to the glamour, the ballads and the drama, Hatch also emphasizes that Dreamgirls has huge historical and cultural significance. The Dreamette’s rise from an amateur night at The Apollo Theater to fame is set during the social revolutions of the 1960. It is also semi-biographical loosely based on the real-life singing group The Supremes and other up-and-coming black, R&B acts of that era.

It’s a reality tale set in a time well before reality competition television series like American Idol and The Voice changed the music landscape for new acts.

There are strong parallels between the characters Deena Jones, Effie White, and Curtis Taylor and real-life singers Diana Ross and Florence Ballard and Motown Records’ founder Berry Gordy. Jennifer Hudson, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal as Effie in the 2006 film, dedicated her Oscar to Ballard in her acceptance speech.

“Not only is it a show about empowering women, it’s also happening during the Civil Rights movement,” Hatch points out. “The Supremes were one of the first black female groups on national television. The Supreme…The Dreams were very instrumental in bringing women to a certain echelon. They created a new formula of glamour [inclusive of women of color].”

In many ways what The Supremes and other black performers did to break the color barrier in music, Dreamgirls has also done in musical theater. Until Dreamgirls came to town, Hatch and the rest of the cast said there have been limited roles for performers of color in Orlando.

Thompson was happy to have the opportunity to audition for, let alone get cast, for the iconic show because of the sometime scarce options.

Hatch adds that he thinks theater is expanding casting opportunities for actors of color so they can be considered for a diverse range of roles where race or ethnicity is not a major factor to the story.

He cites some shows like Aida, where a person’s race or ethnicity isn’t central to the story but otherwise hopes there can be more creative casting.

“We are going to have to open ourselves up…because [theater] is more of a melting pot. The talent wants to see their reflection,” says Trinette.

Hatch is proud of show’s talent and promises the audience won’t be disappointed by the local theater company’s Dreamgirls.

“Each and every day in rehearsal it gets more and more exciting,” he says.

Hamlin, Trinette and Thompson also gave a shout out to the men in the cast, saying that their performances in “Fake Your Way to the Top” and “Steppin’ to the Bad Side” are must-see performances.

Share this story: