I caught the Pay-What-You-Can final dress rehearsal of DREAMGIRLS at the Carnegie tonight. Exactly as I expected, director Torie Wiggins finds all the right emotional beats and directs her cast to act while singing rather than singing while acting. This is what a musical should be.
There are some great voices in the cast, including Lormarev Jones and Sharisse Vernelle Santos. There is some terrific dancing (we saw understudy Trey Peterson absolutely tear it up as James “Thunder” Early – and Darnell Pierre Benjamin’s choreography is sharp). These elements are important.
But what should make live theatre different is the way the song is performed in the context of the story. This cast seems to get it. It feels different. It feels directed by someone who knows and understands acting. I can’t think of a better compliment to give the production.
Yes, there’s some less-than-ideal audio issues (welcome to The Carnegie!) and there’s some flat singing and even flatter acting from some in the Ensemble. But the moments that count – well, they really count.
Specifically, Tia Seay’s show-stopping number before intermission (as Effie White) is the song we all know and wait with baited breath to hear. It’s a beltress’s dream to sing, too. But Seay slays the song with emotion, staying within the context of the scene. There’s no doubt that she has the vocal chops to knock the audience out with her powerful voice. I’m glad she chose to knock us out with powerful acting, too.
This is Wiggin’s first directing project of this scope and scale and it’s a success. At intermission, I heard some of Cincinnati’s finest theatre creators raving about just how good it is. They’re a tough crowd but a supportive one.
You should get out and support live theatre, too.
DREAMGIRLS runs through August 26th at the Carnegie in Covington. Their web site is temporarily down but you can still buy tickets here.