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This story of a girl singing group whose meteoric rise coincides with a sea change in American popular music never grows old. Some of our readers probably saw the 2006 film version with Beyonce, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. Nicely done there, but the continuing excitement of this musical legend comes through best in the immediacy of a stage performance. And the Curran Theatre in San Francisco is the perfect venue with its deep stage and great acoustics.
"Dreamgirls" is based on the rise of one group of girl singers -- as they were called -- the Supremes, whose success was masterminded by Berry Gordy and Motown Records in and around the city of Detroit, back in the day. By design, their music crossed over from a strong rhythm & blues influence to a lighter but distinctly African-American sound, which was more accessible to mainstream America. The struggle of African-American singers and musicians to maintain themselves in the face of racially segregated music and audiences, along with payola scandals in the industry, is well told with original songs and snappy dialogue.
This musical works well on several levels, from the opening scenes at Harlem's Apollo Theater to the closing moments. The singers, dancers and musicians who travel with the show are first rate in their talents and energy. The choreography brings back memories for three generations of fans who love this unique sound from the golden age of rock 'n roll. Robert Longbottom is the director and choreographer. Additional choreography is by Shane Sparks. Some of you may know Shane's work from his association with Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance."
While the songs are not the ones we recall and love, the lyrics and music are successful in evoking the magic of Motown Records' legendary period. Book and lyrics are by Tom Eyen and the music by Henry Krieger. Additional material is by Willy Reale.
Special appreciation goes to Robin Wagner for scenic design, William Ivey Long for costume design, Ken Billington for lighting design, and others for sound and media design. Musical numbers are staged with spectacular results. Costumes are stunning and the costume changes are out of this world -- 305 costumes and 175 wigs are used during a single performance. The wig and hairpiece industry never had it so good.
Live music is crucial to the success of "Dreamgirls." Local musicians contribute from the orchestra pit. At the back of the stage, behind the singers and dancers, is a tight group of musicians who travel with the show. Sam Davis is the music director. David Chase handles vocal arrangements. Michael Keller is the music coordinator. Orchestrations are by Harold Wheeler. Some of you may know Wheeler as the musical director for the ABC series, "Dancing with the Stars."
A good time is to be had here if you act quickly. "Dreamgirls" at the Curran Theatre closes September 26th.
Jeanne Powell is a poet and short story writer, who teaches in a summer program for teens. Her most recent books are "My Own Silence" and "Word Dancing," available online and through booksellers. She also hosts spoken word events in San Francisco, and covers cultural happenings for online media.
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