Singer wakes up to a wonderful role in 'Dreamgirls' tour

February 22, 1994|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,Sun Theater Critic

For Baltimore native Cynthia Waddell, starring in the national touring production of "Dreamgirls" is like a dream come true.

"The message for me in this particular show is so synonymous with my life: that dreams really do come true," Waddell said over the phone from Albany, N.Y., where "Dreamgirls" played several one-night engagements. The show arrives at the Lyric Opera House today for a six-night run.

"Dreamgirls' " six-month tour has included about two weeks of one-nighters, most occurring earlier this month -- during the worst weather of the season. However, inclement weather didn't stop the show, which travels on such occasions in three buses and a truck.

"We go on -- rain, hail or snow. We're like the postal service," says Waddell, 32.

The grueling schedule did temporarily halt Waddell, however. She came down with the flu in Ohio, causing her to miss a performance there, two in upstate New York and one in Vermont. "One-nighters are detrimental to your health," she says, the residue of the flu still perceptible in her voice.

Missing performances is a rarity for this trouper. She got her first taste of touring in the early 1980s, when she was a soloist with the Morgan State University Choir, which traveled to Bermuda as well as throughout the South.

"Touring is probably second nature to me because of the Morgan State Choir. [Choir director] Dr. Nathan Carter prepared us very well for that," she says.

Dr. Carter has fond memories not only of Waddell's contribution to the choir, but also of her contribution to the bus trips. "She always had an ebullient attitude and spirit. If you asked her to sing something, it wouldn't just be the voice that would captivate you, it would be her personality in rendering it," he says.

"If you were on a bus ride, you knew she was there because she would be telling jokes. She almost could have been a comedian."

"Dreamgirls," which has music by Henry Krieger and a book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, is about a Supremes-like girl group in the heyday of Motown. Waddell plays Effie, a temperamental performer who refuses to "fit in."

As Dr. Carter suggests, and Waddell's parents confirm, Cynthia's personality is nothing like the character she plays. "She is a very easygoing person. She's the type of person I don't think anyone's ever met her that didn't like her," says her father, M. Frederick Waddell, a retired U.S. Coast Guard foreman.

Waddell -- who lives in the Edmondson Village area with her 15-year-old daughter, LaKeah -- hadn't seen "Dreamgirls" before she auditioned for the role. But she was a fan of the Supremes and remembers watching the trio on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in her West Baltimore home when she was about 6.

That was about a year after Waddell herself first sang in public -- with the Sunday school choir at Central Baptist Church.

"I had a solo and the largest mouth in the choir," she says. "I knew I could do this for the rest of my life."

From then on, she performed every chance she got -- with the Southwestern Senior High School Choir, the Baltimore City Public Schools All-City Chorus, the Arena Players' Youtheatre, in plays at Morgan, as well as in the Theatre Project's production of "Baltimore Voices" and in the Youth Entitlement Program at Dunbar Senior High.

"Anywhere there was a choir, she was in it," says her mother, Mildred G. Waddell, a home health care worker, who also admits, "I had no idea she would go this far, but I did know that she was really talented."

Waddell's commitment to church music has continued into adulthood; she is a soloist with the Shiloh Christian Community Church choir as well as a free-lance gospel singer.

Currently on a leave of absence from her job as a secretary at the Johns Hopkins University, Waddell hasn't reached the point where she can make a living as a performer, but she seems to be getting closer. She got her first taste of full-time performing in the summer of 1991 when she had a lead role in a touring production called "Thank God for Mama." Her daughter also had a small role in the production.

She expects to return to her secretarial job after the "Dreamgirls'" tour ends in April. However, there's a possibility of a future engagement at Las Vegas' Aladdin Hotel, where "Dreamgirls" played in November.

For now, though, Cynthia Waddell plans to continue singing for the same reason she always has -- for the sheer love of it. "I try to sing as if I don't need the money. What I do is from the heart," she says.

"I think that I've been blessed with a wonderful talent, so my main objective is to actually lift others' spirits."

DREAMGIRLS'

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 tonight through Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday; matinees 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Tickets: $17.50-$27.50

Call: (410) 889-3911

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