Low-wattage 'Dreamgirls' offers a sparkle or two

February 24, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

"The dream is back," proclaims the program for the production of "Dreamgirls," currently playing a one-week engagement at the Lyric Opera House. It's back all right, but it's also smaller and uneven.

One element that's as strong as ever, however, is the vocal power of the actress playing Effie, the temperamental singer who refuses to compromise her bold, earthy style to fit in with the plans of her singing group, the Dreams, to cross over from soul to pop.

Effie is played by Baltimore native Cynthia Waddell, an actress who combines a broad singing range with a solid sense of character. Waddell makes Effie's presence felt from her very first scene, when she proudly insists, "We don't do back-up!" And she imbues Effie's first-act show stopper, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," with a combination of hurt, anger and sheer belting ability that makes the song rumble with fervor.

There are a few other full-scale performances in this scaled-down revival of the 1981 Motown-inspired musical by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger. As Curtis Taylor Jr., the Dreams' duplicitous manager, Eric Jordan Young brings Machiavellian smoothness to both his acting and his singing. And, as a member of the Dreams who falls in love with a married star, April Harris' Lorrell matures from a star-struck teen-ager to a self-assured woman, asserting her character's independence with gusto in "Ain't No Party."

But at the same time, two key roles get short shrift. As Deena Jones, the glamorous Diana Ross-style leader of the Dreams, rhythm and blues artist Miki Howard seems almost as out of sync with the group as Effie does. And as James Thunder Early, described as "the wildest man in show business," Cary Hampton is simply too tame.

For that matter, with a few exceptions -- Waddell chief among them -- tameness is the chief weakness of this revival, which doesn't credit a director, although the program acknowledges: "Original Broadway Production & Choreography by Michael Bennett." The musical that Bennett, Krieger and Eyen created used the glitzy world of show business as a metaphor to expose the American dream. In this down-sized version, even the lighting suffers from a glitz deficiency, and the dream is more of a memory.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "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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