Having a dream is as important as having air to breath or water to drink. The latter two feed the body, while dreams feed the soul. Dreams give one hope and purpose.
Kevin Lee-y Green has been bringing his dreams to stages near and far for years now, through his company Techmoja Dance and Performing Arts. Formed in 2009, Techmoja gives artists of all ethnic backgrounds an outlet to find, practice and enjoy their talents. It also provides audiences stunning works.
Green is a true showman to his core, with a clear vision for how to bring the best out of any production. It’s a fact he shows yet again with his masterful direction and choreography for the company’s latest rendition of “Dreamgirls.” A musical near and dear to the company’s very soul, it’s Techmoja third staging of the show, but only the first time on the grandiose Thalian Hall stage. And it’s an incredible ode to the dreams we have and challenges we overcome to obtain them.
The musical tells the story of The Dreams—a trio of black female singers in the ‘60s who face personal and professional struggles in an ever-changing music industry. Effie White (Myra Graham Quince), Deena Jones (Kayla Simone Ferguson) and Lorrell Robinson (Adrienne DeBouse) bond, betray and grow as they traverse the minefields of fame in this decade-spanning tale. Told in two acts, the production features a quick pace that makes runtime seem shorter than it is. The outstanding performances and creative team have outdone themselves. Audiences will be entranced by Green’s vision.
From the opening crescendo of the overture, audiences are transported to the hopping Apollo Theater. The Dreamettes have just arrived for an amateur talent competition; already, they are in their element, if in over their heads. Not until they meet smooth operator Curtis Taylor Jr. (Kaleb Edley) does their luck begin to change. A car salesman with dreams of building his own empire, Curtis connects the girls with talent agent Marty (Fracaswell Hyman). Marty happens to be the manager for Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Brandon Bradley), a popular R&B star. The girls get the gig as Jimmy’s new backup singers, and with Effie’s baby brother C.C. (Gregory Devon Brown) on board as Jimmy’s new songwriter, the group hits the road.
Each member of The Dreams owns their roles and share the stage in beautiful ways. Adrienne DeBouse’s Lorrell finds a great balance of humor and pain for her pining of Jimmy Early. From harmless crush to unrequited love, her journey is given its own time to breath.
The full character arc that Kayla Simone Ferguson undergoes with the Deena role is truly stunning. As she starts out as the meek mouse of the group, I was utterly blown away with her transformation into a bona fide star. Her change in attitude is a great example of solid acting range, from a timid girl to the diva leading the disco cover of “One Night Only.”
Anchoring the entire production is Myra Graham Quince as the full-figured force of nature, Effie White. She grabs hold of the clear power the role requires, yet finds the right spots to show hubris, insecurity and the other cracks forming in Effie’s armor. Upon learning of Curtis’ already made decision to replace her as lead singer of The Dreams for the more marketable looking Deena, Quince’s balance of both seething anger and petrified pain will have audiences doing more than watching; they’ll be empathizing. She brings the house down with “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”—a battle cry over her stubborn nature, which leads to her removal from the group and as Curtis’ love. She manages to overcome her strife and her return stronger, as heard in the emotional, soulful “One Night Only.”
It’s difficult to say anyone could steal this show when it’s made up of such a talented cast. But Brandon Bradley’s performance as Jimmy “Thunder” Early is too damn entertaining. He has boundless energy; every time he steps onstage audience members will be cheering before he sings the first note. From his opening number, “Fake Your Way to the Top,” to his last, “The Rap,” Bradley perfectly embodies Jimmy Early. His may very well be one of the best supporting performances of the year.
The rest of the cast rounds out the production well. Kaleb Edley’s Curtis is a man driven by ambition. Though I would have liked more passion from his performance, Edley brings a calculated coldness that works just as well. Gregory Devon Brown’s C.C. is the sweet, if not easily swayed artist. The warmth he exudes during “Family,” a duet with Effie, conjures tears. And Fracaswell Hyman fills the grouchy manager role of Marty with heart and wisdom.
All of the singing is top-notch—so much so I would love to have an audio recording of it. That’s a credit to how well Brian Whitted, the music director, controls the tempo. Never does the band overpower the singers.
Hannah Funderburke’s lighting design keeps audience members’ eyes dazzled. She masks the stage in a near constant changing color wheel. It “wows” and subtly underlines the emotional tones of individual scenes. The icy nature of Curtis gets colored in a consistent blue hue whenever he steps onto the scene. C.C.’s moment of inspiration for soon-to-be-hit “Cadillac Car” is punctuated brilliantly with the use of a single green spotlight, signifying the song’s future profitability. Funderburke’s work alone makes the production a must-see.
The costuming and wigs by Allyson Mojic, Terrill Williams, and Cynthia Lloyd Johnson, deserve standing ovations. The passage of time is such an important element to the production and could be easily overlooked. Both departments merge seamlessly to show how styles and fashions are formed and forgotten for the next flash-in-the-pan trend. Their combined work on the elder Jimmy Early shows a man struggling to stay relevant, while the red sequin pants suits paired with Diana Ross-styled wigs scream the audacity of the disco era.
Techmoja started as a dream between Green and his mother, Donna Joyner Green, who passed away in 2014. Donna used all her strength to bring Kevin’s dreams to life. Now, he honors her by continuing the dream. When Techmoja stages “Dreamgirls” as an anniversary show every five years, it is a personification of a dream the two shared. The audience is lucky to witness the beauty of it all. What a beauty it is!