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Toby’s Dinner Theater Dreamgirls

By • Sep 30th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Dreamgirls
Toby’s Dinner Theater
Toby’s Dinner Theater-Baltimore
Through November 13th
3:00 with intermission
$50.50-$56/$36.50 Children
Reviewed September 24th, 2011

There are not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe Toby Dinner Theatre of Baltimore’s practically flawless production of Dreamgirls. Told almost entirely in song, Dreamgirls is a fictional dramatization of a Supremes-esque Motown girl group that rises to fame in the early 1970s. The group faces obstacles from the white-dominated music scene, a self-interested and sneaky manager, men who take them for granted, each other, and their own egos. Despite all of the negativity that is brought to their lives in the pursuit of fame, this is a story about rediscovering yourself on the other side. The power of this production is hinged upon the ability of the actors to make this world and this story believable, while conveying the story though song. Under the astute direction of David Gregory, the cast at Toby’s not only delivers; they surpass every possible expectation of this already iconic show.

Shayla Simmons (Deena) is beautiful, graceful, and composed. She does a wonderful job of seamlessly transitioning her character from the grounded member of the group to a lead singer filled with confidence and ego to the powerful and self-possessed woman who finally demands respect from both others and herself. She has gorgeous vocals, and she shows excellent control early on to really demonstrate the way that her character’s increasing confidence adds power to her voice.

Ashley Johnson (Lorrell) is downright likeable. She has infectious energy and great comedic timing. Her facial expressions are extremely expressive. She also does an excellent job of showing how her character goes from naïve girl to strong woman. She also has a beautiful and powerful voice that delights when she really gets to show it off in the second act.

Crystal Freeman (Effie) had me a little worried in the first part of the first act. It was not yet clear if she was going to have the power to pull off the big numbers that I knew were coming. She seemed to struggle a little to establish a clear character and identity, although I really came to see that she was actually really just making a choice to portray Ellie as a young woman struggling to find herself. The end of the first act is the well-known “(And I’m Telling You) I’m Not Going.” Especially in the last few years, this song has been sung on every talent competition and at every audience by hundreds of girls. The song was originally made legendary by Jennifer Holliday, and then made over as a new legend when Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar. It was hard to imagine that there is anything new that anyone could do with this number; it was especially hard to imagine that this was about to be the most incredible rendition of this song ever. And then it was. It was the most incredible, incredible, incredible (It can’t be said enough) performance of this number. Freeman was awe-inspiring, breath-taking, and astonishing. Not only were the vocals incredible in their power, use of dynamics, and several choices in phrasing that made the number her own, her performance was raw and real. There was a moment in which she dropped down to her knees, and that one moment in time was the worth the entire admission price. It was the most powerful and real moment I have ever seen on any stage. Freeman continued to keep this incredible transformation alive throughout the entire second act, and her portrayal of Effie should set the new standard for what makes this character legendary.

Jonathan Randle (Curtis) was another powerhouse performer. His smooth, sweet vocals and his smooth, sweet sweet-talking made it easy to understand why not one, but two of the girls, fell victim to his charms. When the women weren’t looking, Randle also did an excellent job of letting Curtis’ dark, self-interested side come through. Randle also really had the “It Factor” that made it hard to take your eyes off his charisma. David Little (C.C.) had a warm and rich voice that was a treat to listen to and made his character genuine. Ray Hatch (Jimmy) does an excellent job of making his character filled with energy and larger than life; it is a case where a little bit of deliberate overacting is used at just the right amount to effectively achieve its purpose for the character. Hatch is also extremely dynamic to watch as a dancer, so it is no surprise that he is responsible for the choreography in this production.

The choreography is definitely another highlight of this production. Hatch finds new ways to keep each number fresh with new and interesting movement, even though most of the songs have a similar vibe to them. He also excellently incorporates different props into the dances, such as feathers and suitcases. An extremely talented group of people who fill the smaller roles and the ensemble in this production bring the large numbers to life.

The set is simple and effective. The use of a scrim to often differentiate between front and back stage works well, and a few simple stair units are able to convey a myriad of different settings. Small prop pieces and set dressing are used effectively in a minimalistic approach to give each different scene an identity without ever having to pause the action for set changes. The beautiful and versatile lighting design working with the cyc at back does an excellent job of setting the scenes and the mood of those scenes. The costumes are perfection. They are beautiful, appropriate, and fit each character perfectly. There are several costumes that are designed in such a way that they lend themselves to instantaneous costume changes both on and off-stage. The characters are continually changing clothing throughout the production, but every costume has had as much careful attention to detail as the one before.

The only critique that can be made of this production is the sound. Everything was a little too loud, practically at rock-concert, ears-ringing, level. The powerful voices did not need this extensive level of projection, and, then, the band was turned up louder to match the voices. The overall effect was times when you couldn’t understand things because of the excessive volume and just a general feeling of wishing it could be turned down just a little.

However, one tiny misstep that can easily be corrected is no reason to miss out on this production. Everyone and anyone should get tickets now and make their way to Toby’s Baltimore to see Dreamgirls before it is too late.

Cast:

  • Deena Jones: Shayla Simmons
  • Lorrell Robinson: Ashley Johnson
  • Effie Melody White: Crystal Freeman
  • Curtis Taylor, Jr.: Jonathan Randle
  • C.C. White: David Little
  • James “Thunder” Early: Ray Hatch
  • Michelle Morris: Dayna Quincy
  • Marty: Anthony Conway
  • Charlene/Les Styles: Mary Searcy
  • Tru Tone/Dwight/Mr. Morgan: Marquise White
  • Joann: Brianna Freeman
  • MC/Wayne: Jason Phillips
  • Tru Tone/Stage Manager: Bryan Daniels
  • Tiny Joe Dixon/Piano Player: Tobias Young
  • Stepp Sister/Les Styles: Shaunte Tabb
  • Stepp Sister/Les Styles: Shayla Maddox
  • Stepp Sister/Les Styles: Vanessa M. Buenger
  • Tru Tone: Lester Holmes
  • Tru Tone: Terrence Bennett
  • Dave/Frank: David Bosley-Reynolds
  • Ensemble/Sweetheart: Celia Blitzer
  • Ensemble/Sweetheart: Katie Heidbreder

Production Staff:

  • Director: David Gregory
  • Music Director: Cedric Lyles
  • Choreographer: Ray Hatch
  • Costume Designer: Janine Sunday
  • Scenic Designer: David A. Hopkins
  • Lighting Designer: Lynn Joslin
  • Sound Designer: Corey Brown
  • Production Manager: Vickie S. Johnson
  • Production Stage Manager: Kevin McAllister
  • Stage Manager: Sarah Splaine
  • Master Carpenter: David A. Hopkins
  • Set Construction: David A. Hopkins, Corey Brown, Russell Sunday
  • Properties: Amy Kaplan
  • Costume Assistant: Della Lotman
  • Light Board Operators: Kelly Martin, Jeanie McAlpine
  • Sound Operators: Corey Brown, Jeanie McAlpine
  • Stage Crew: Jason Sowers, Melvina Coker, Scean Flowers

Orchestra:

  • Conductor: Cedric D. Lyles or Cynthia Saffron
  • Keys 2: Ann Prizzi or Ed Meyers or Ernest Swift
  • Drums: Thomas Harold
  • Bass: Michael Kellam or Jason Wilson or Andrew Webb
  • Trumpet: S. Craig Taylor or Kyle Anderson
  • Reeds: Brian Butler or Steve Haaser or Chris Reardon

Disclaimer: Toby’s Dinner Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

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