'Dreamgirls' is memorable as Cooper-Gessner debut

September 09, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Folks, it's a marriage.

T. G. Cooper, one of the area's premier directors, and Dick Gessner, quintessential lounge pianist and Broadway musical maven par excellence, have joined together professionally for the first time.

The state of this brand new union is on display at Dick Gessner's Broadway Corner over on Route 50 just east of Annapolis, where Cooper's Pamoja ensemble has just opened its run of "Dreamgirls," the smash musical loosely based on the story of the Supremes' rise to stardom.

"Dreamgirls" will play there Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 for several weeks.

With the demise of the Annapolis Dinner Theater, Broadway Corner becomes the area's only establishment regularly dishing up evenings of food and theatrical entertainment.

Gessner's theatrical setting is smaller, the audience closer to the stage and the ambience less plush than ADT devotees are used to, but with a mere $10 cover charge and a modestly priced sandwich menu in place, the tariff is also a lot less plush. Those of you lamenting the loss of the Annapolis Dinner Theater might want to scout out Gessner's place. Especially when this production of "Dreamgirls" is available.

The sets won't impress you. (There aren't any.) The choreography is serviceable for such a small space, but not exactly stunning. Nobody spent a fortune on costumes, either.

What you will get is a succession of musical personalities who simply will blow you away. In fact, the "Dreamgirls" original cast recording pales in comparison with the knock-out aggregation of singers Ted Cooper has assembled for this production.

Benetta Chisholm is sensational as Effie, the Diana Ross-ish lead singer of "The Dreams" who climbs to stardom alone after being forced out of the group.

Chisholm is a lovely, petite Howard University alum whose voice packs a spectacular wallop, both interpretively and technically. Effie's "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" and "I Am Changing" are back-to-back show-stoppers that evoke screams of applause.

Chisholm also is an adept comedian, which comes in quite handy as Effie's attitude mutates into a full-blown "attitude."

If the other members of "The Dreams" sound as if they've been singing together all their lives, it's because they have. Effie's back-up singers (and eventual replacements) are actually Towanda, Traci and Trina Braxton. Their back-up harmonies sound straight from Motown and each is a gifted soloist to boot.

Wayne York is a hyper-active riot as Jimmy Early, the soul singer who is supported and later eclipsed by his talented female ensemble. He is hysterical as a capon-ized Johnny Mathis in "I Meant You No Harm" and proceeds to hijack the entire production when his falsetto gives way to the fast-talking rap that ends his career with a bang.

Jim Ballard is very good as Curtis, the sleazy promoter all too willing to scratch, buy and compromise his way to the top. "You Are My Dream," his duet with Trina Braxton, shows them both to excellent advantage.

As Effie's brother, C. C., Vincent Simms contributes a pair of warmly sung duets with Miss Chisholm; "Family" and "I Missed You Old Friend." Steve Banian is earnest and energetic as Marty, Effie's loyal agent.

Aspects of "Dreamgirls" could stand some improvement. The big Act I blow-up leading to Effie's departure could benefit from additional rehearsal; the pacing is tentative. Jimmy might want to review the words of his hilarious rap; one entrance never seemed to materialize last Thursday night. Some songs seem to be over-miked, an unnecessary phenomenon with voices of this magnitude. (Do they even need the mikes? The harmonies should sound fabulous without them.)

But, all told, the Gessner-Pamoja marriage seems off to a terrific start.

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