Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

DreamgirlsVenice Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Bullets over Broadway, The Rehearsal, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Kristofer Geddie Front, Cherise James,
Syreeta S. Banks, and Alicia Thomas Rear

Photo by Renee McVety
The last time I saw Dreamgirls on stage was shortly before its December 1981 Broadway premiere, at the last Saturday night performance of the tryout in Boston. Even though Motown/R&B is decidedly not my musical center of gravity, I was wowed by this musical. Seeing it 35 plus years later in a sensational production at Venice Theatre, I am thinking that this musical may be the single best show business story ever put on stage, and it was just as great in the film directed by Bill Condon. Tom Eyen (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) tell the story of a young singing group, their rise and their fall. There are many songs that can stand on their own, yet are completely dramatically specific within the show. Connective musical material moves the story along seamlessly. Even though I would not call Dreamgirls one of my personal favorites, I would list it among the 10-15 greatest musicals ever written.

Brad Wages directs a production which, if not as propulsive as Michael Bennett's original, is just as fluid. The forward momentum of the story never falters for a second. All of this is accomplished on a unit set by Tim Wisgerhof—two staircases on either side of the stage and a frame that flies in and out as needed, with altered decorations. Some of the most lavish costumes ever seen at this theater, by costume designer Meg Ferguson and assistant Adam-Bobby Farman are another wow factor. Lighting by John Michael Andzulis is amazing as is sound design by Dorian Boyd and Casey Deiter.

Many of the performers in the cast are New York based, with a few from other places, some local folks, several favorites from West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, and some others I am not familiar with. Syreeta S. Banks is outstanding as Effie White. Her voice does not have the raw power to plow through the showstopping "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," so she begins it more intimately and allows for a big finish. The song is so strong that it allows for different interpretations and hers works very well in this performance. She is equally strong in the second act numbers "I Am Changing" and her version of "One Night Only."

Cherise James as Deena Jones marks the transition from gawky child in the first act to glamorous star in the second and she physically inhabits the role in a way that made me almost unable to take my eyes off of her. Alicia Thomas, who plays Lorrell Robinson, is always a presence and makes her big moment, "Ain't No Party," telling. Tayo Shonubi as Michelle Morris, brought in to replace Effie is fine in a basically thankless part.

The men are equally strong. Bryan Taronn Jones plays Curtis Taylor, Jr., manager of The Dreamettes, later The Dreams, and still later Deena Jones and The Dreams. This character more than almost any of the others stays basically in one emotional place from the beginning. Mr. Jones is vocally solid and his acting shows great strength in several confrontation scenes. Kristofer Geddie, as Jimmy "Thunder" Early, pretty much owns the male half of this musical. He sings, he dances, he romances, and is a force to be reckoned with. Marquise Atkinson plays Effie's brother C. C. White effectively. He looks the part, which is kind of nebishy, thin and gawky. Even without being able to change his look much, in the second act he is more commanding, letting us see the character's emotional growth. Edwin Watson makes a great impact as Marty, a character that probably would attract little notice in most productions, as it doesn't have any important vocal duties, but Mr. Watson's very strong acting is a big plus. The performers get a great gift from the authors, the emotions are deeply embedded in the score, so that all they have to do is bring to the stage great waves of talent, which they completely do.

The ensemble is every bit as strong as the leads. One indelible image for me is Alexander Domingue, Jeremiah Bryant, Joshua Blount, Ronnie Lewis, and Steffahn Maclin dancing as Jimmy Early's band. All of the tiny roles that people slip in and out of are well taken and add to the fabric of this fine production.

Michelle Kasanofsky, leading a seven-piece ensemble, keeps the musical portion ship-shape and supports her performers at every turn.

Dreamgirls at Venice Theatre is a can't miss production, of which there have been quite a few in this area this season.

Dreamgirls, through March 18, 2018, at Venice Theatre, 140 West Tampa Ave., Venice FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-488-1115 or visit

Cast (in order of appearance):
Stepp Sisters: Bailey Scott, Jasmine Lawrence, Starr-Lyne Paul, Taya Shonubi
Charlene: Ariel Blue
Joann: Marta McKinnon
Marty: Edwin Watson
Curtis Taylor, Jr.: Bryan Taronn Jones
Deena Jones: Cherise James
The M.C./Dwight/Mr. Morgan: Ish Harris
Tin Joe Dixon/Jerry Norman: Gavin King
Lorrell Robinson: Alicia Thomas
C.C. (Claridge Conrad) White: Marquise Atkinson
Effie White: Syreeta S. Banks*
Little Albert: Ronnie Lewis
The Tru Tones: Alexander Domingue, Jeremiah Bryant, Joshua Blount, Steffahn Maclin
Jimmy (James Thunder) Early: Kristofer Geddie
Edna Burke: Beatrice Fletcher-Miller
The James Early Band: Alexander Domingue, Jeremiah Bryant, Joshua Blount, Ronnie Lewis, Steffahn Maclin
Wayne: Kalon Hayward
Frank: D'Mariel Jones
Michelle Morris: Tayo Shonubi
Five Tuxedos: D'Andre McKenzie, D'Mariel Jones,Greg Driscoll, Ronnie Lewis, Steffahn Maclin
Les Styles: Ariel Blue, Jasmine Lawrence, Marta McKinnon, Starr-Lyne Paul
Stage Manager/Security Guard: D'Andre McKenzie
Effie White Understudy (March 3 & 10)/Ensemble: Joya Richmond
Jimmy Early Understudy (March 8-11): LaRon Grant
Dave and the Sweethearts (singing "Cadillac Car" a la Pat Boone-video only): Beckett Pfanmiller, Natalie Taylor, Taylor Reister
*==Appears courtesy of Actors' Equity Association

Michelle Kasanofsky: Conductor/Keyboard 1
Jamar D. Camp: Keyboard 2
Tom Ellison: Reeds
Tim Eaton: Trumpet
Donald "Snoopy" Watts: Percussion
Gilad Ben-Zvi: Guitar
Isaac Mingus: Bass

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