Ambitious `Dreamgirls' is on key

Critic's Corner//Theater

Winters Lane's quality performances are show's high notes

October 19, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun theater critic

The movie, Dreamgirls, due to be released in December, is already generating buzz. To increase anticipation even more, the production company, DreamWorks, is picking up the licensing fees for amateur productions mounted this year.

Taking advantage of this, Winters Lane Productions has staged an ambitious, large-scale production in its new home on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.

And though the gutsy company falls short in some minor respects (trying too hard on the costumes and not hard enough on the set), director Mark Briner and music director Ed Myers produce some dreamy results where it really counts - in the performances.

Tom Eyen's libretto and Henry Krieger's music bear unmistakable similarities to the history and sound of the Supremes, here called the Dreams. But in a broader sense, Dreamgirls is about the meaning of success in 1960s America. To the Dreams' manager, Curtis - portrayed and sung with oleaginous slickness by Keith E. Irby - success is worth whatever it takes to get to the top, even if that means "Steppin' to the Bad Side."

To Effie, the hefty lead singer whom Curtis replaces with a svelter model, success means refusing to compromise, and Kelli Blackwell's performance in this pivotal role is one of the finest I've seen on Baltimore's nonprofessional stages this year. Blackwell, who displays impressive vocal control, pours herself into Effie's trademark number, "(And I Am Telling You) I'm Not Going," delivering it less like Jennifer Holliday's original scream of agony and more like a wrenching, sung sob.

Among the other notable performances are those of Aaron Reeder, who sings and dances with expressive fluidity as Effie's songwriter brother, and Shaunte Tabb as a member of the Dreams who turns heartbreak into resilience. Both actors contribute to the knockout delivery of the intricate, second-act "Quintet," a number that exemplifies Winters Lane's mastery of the complex interaction among the characters as well as the score's musical challenges.

Some of the show's most stirring moments come when the cast members harmonize, and that's as it should be. In the end, it is a sense of harmony, not fame, that brings the Dreams their greatest fulfillment.

Dreamgirls is performed at Q Theatre, CCBC Catonsville, 800 S. Rolling Road, Catonsville. Showtimes are 8 p.m. today, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Oct. 29, through Oct. 29. Tickets are $20. Call 410-7806369 or visit winter laneproductions.org.

On the horizon

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels doesn't come to the Hippodrome until next month, but Baltimoreans can get a sneak peek Saturday when three members of the former Broadway production perform a seven-minute version of the musical at the 5K Race for the Cure. Tom Galantich, Jacqueline Bayne and Jason Gillman will present their abridged edition at 9:45 a.m. (after the race and before the awards) on stage on parking lot B (near Hamburg Street) at M&T Bank Stadium.

In addition, the show will donate $10 of every ticket sold during the Baltimore engagement (excluding Friday and Saturday night performances) to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, if patrons specify the code "race" when purchasing tickets. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will be at the Hippodrome Nov. 21 through Dec. 3. Call 410-547-SEATS.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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