Village Theatre’s beloved Artistic Director Steve Tomkins says the vaunted Tony and Oscar winning musical Dreamgirls opening at the Francis Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah this week is a bucket-list show for him. “R.J. Tancioco (frequent Musical Director at the Village) has been bugging me to do it since about 1995. So here we are at last, and I discovered that the key to directing it is to stay out of the way! There are so many moving pieces to it between the sets and the fantastic actor/singer dancers. I have Timothy McCuen Piggee with me as Associate Director, and this show LIVES in his body and R.J. doing the musical direction and Daniel Cruz doing the Choreography. Some team!”
Since many more people have seen Dreamgirls the film versus the blockbuster Michael Bennett directed stage show from 1981, Tomkins wants to make it clear this is the original. “The movie is good, sometimes great for that medium. Ironically many felt the Bennett stage version was cinematic in style, and I think we honor that. But we have not incorporated any of composer Henry Krieger’s additional songs from the movie, and Lorell’s “Ain’t No Party”, misguidedly cut from the film, is in.” (Composer Tom Eyen, who shared the Best Score Tony Award with Krieger died in 1991 long before the film was made.) “ I love the truth of this musical”, says Tomkins, especially the truth of what was going on in the music business, and the payola, and crossover that occurred. It is more honest than most “Based on real events/true story” kinds of shows. And Eddie Murphy may have been a great actor to play James Thunder Early in the film, but he didn’t have the vocal chops that the stage Jimmys, including our own Nathaniel Tenebaum bring to the plate. I can’t wait for opening night, because this cast is just going to send it through the roof again. They are truly outstanding.”
And now a q&a from the girls in the title, Village’s dazzling quartet of Dreams. Taking on the role of Effie is Angela Birchett. New to Village Theatre’s stage, Angela comes straight from The Color Purple on Broadway and lends her pipes to epic songs like, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and “I Am Changing”. Joining her is Lauren Du Pree (My Heart Is the Drum) as Deena, Alexandria Henderson (In the Heights) as Lorrell, and Joell Weil (My Heart Is the Drum) as Michelle.
David-Edward Hughes: How about a chatty, relaxed 50 words or so on you, your theatre background and roles..
Alexandria Henderson: I consider myself rather new to theatre. My first major musical out of college was Dreamgirls in 2012 with DASH Center of the Arts. I love everything about the acting process, especially watching pieces of the puzzle come together. I have been actively pursuing theatre as of January 2016, and loving every minute of it.
Joel Weill: I have been doing theatre for 10 years now. I started as a Village KIDSTAGE kid, and grew from there. I just graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Music Theatre, and have been lucky enough to work at the 5th Avenue (Grease) and Village Theatre (My Heart is the Drum, Dreamgirls) since graduating.
Angela Birchett: I have had the pleasure of doing some great roles in a relatively short time. I transitioned to a full time theatre career a little over 10 years ago from being a music teacher right out of college. I’ve done some pretty iconic shows (Broadway, regionally and in touring companies) such as Hairspray, The Color Purple and Aint Misbehavin’ to name a few. Also, I’ve worked on some new and experimental musicals and plays. Very exciting!
Lauren DuPree: I was born and raised in Seattle and always had a love for the arts. Particularly dancing. I attended Howard University in Washington, DC and studied musical theatre. I worked a lot in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area doing children’s theatre and a few notable shows such as A Christmas Carol (Ford’s Theatre), Dreamgirls (Signature Theatre), The Piano Lesson (Olney Theatre Center), and Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Washington Savoyards). I moved back to Seattle in 2015 and have been enjoying the theatre scene here.
DEH: When and how did you first become acquainted with this iconic show?
Lauren: Seeing the movie was my introduction to this musical and I fell in love! I bought the soundtrack and I listened to it everywhere I went. Honestly, truly, I was obsessed.
Angela: I was very young-maybe high school- when I saw the now signature performance by Jennifer Holiday doing “And I’m Telling You.” That sparked me to find out everything I could about it. I became obsessed.
Alexandria: I watched the film in 2006, and that was my first introduction to the musical. I didn’t know about the stage version until I played Lorrell in 2012.
Joell: I think the first time I really knew about Dreamgirls was when the movie came out in 2006. I was 13 years old, and became OBSESSED the moment I saw it. From that point on, I was listening to the album on repeat, and my mom showed me Jennifer Holliday’s iconic Tony performance. I have loved the show ever since
DEH: Do you think it cuts close to the bone in terms of the real Diana Ross and the Supremes story?
Angela: Oh for sure! Being a Detroit native and my dad being a young performer right alongside people like the Temptations and Diana Ross I’ve had first hand accounts of their story. This show accurately depicts the drama of the real life Diana/Florence and Deena/Effie parallel
Lauren: There are definitely parallels to Dreamgirls and The Supremes and I drew from their story in my research for this show, but there are also a lot of differences. I think this show speaks to any story of success and trying to make it in this business. There are ups and downs, obstacles, heartbreak, heartache, and a lot of joy
DEH: How are the dynamics between the four of you in rehearsal?
Alexandria: It has been such a great time getting to know Angela, Lauren, and Joell better during this process. We have a lot of fun and tons of laughs, and then get serious for the in-scene bickering. Then we’re back to joking and carrying on.
Joell: We are very jokey people. We are always acting crazy and joking around with each other. It is a very fun and supportive relationship between the four of us. I don’t get to interact with Angela as much as the other two, but we still get along really well.
Angela: We are all skilled actors and so it’s really cool to have people like Lauren, Alexandria and Joell to work alongside. It makes me dig deeper and make stronger choices because they are as well.
Lauren: I’m having a ball working with these beautiful, talented, amazing ladies. We have so much fun together on and off the stage. I think our chemistry really shows, because we have such a great rapport. I’m learning a lot and gro from each of them so I’m very grateful for this process.
DEH: Which of the MALE roles would you want to play if the casting were non-traditional?
Alexandria: I would absolutely want to be Curtis Taylor, Jr. I enjoy that he’s cunning, devious, and ambitious.
Joell: I would want to play C.C. I think he has the best songs. I would want to sing “Family”, and the duet he sings with Effie after they reconcile their relationship. He also is just a genuine human being who wants the best for the people he cares about. That’s such an honorable position to be in.
Lauren: Jimmy! Hands down. It’s so much fun to watch Nathaniel play the role and I get jealous of how he basically gets to act a fool the whole show.
Angela: Definitely Curtis! I’d want to journey through his story. His evolution is quite alarming. I feel his role was very well written.
DEH: What song from the Supremes catalogue do you love the most?
Angela: Honestly, I’ve never been a Supremes fan. Isn’t that crazy?! I am definitely a lover of the soul sound from the era, not the pop. If I had to choose one to put on repeat I’d say “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. I love the groove of it and how Diana finesses the vamp in the chorus.
Lauren: I have a few favorites. I just love Motown in general, but my all time faves would have to be “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” with The Temptations (love them!), “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” because I love Diana’s spoken parts, and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” because I sang it in a lip syncing contest when I was about 10. That one just holds a special place in my heart.
Joell:: I really love “You Can’t Hurry Love”. I don’t think there’s a Supremes song that I hate, to be honest. They’re music is bangin, and always puts me in a good mood.
Alexandria: I love “Keep Me Hanging On.”
DEH: For Deena Only-How do you see her? Is she a heroine? Is she innocent in what happens to Effie or culpable at all for her being axed?
Lauren: Deena is young and naive and gets caught up in this picture that Curtis paints for her life. All she wants is to be important and make a difference, and she believes that Curtis’s plan will provide that for her. Honestly, everyone in the show believes that Curtis is doing the best for them at first. When Deena gets older she realizes that she’s living a lie. This persona she plays onstage isn’t true to who she is, and she finally gets to the point where she can’t do it anymore. I don’t think she’s to blame for Effie getting the axe. Curtis is the catalyst that pushes Effie out of the group and everyone is blinded my Curtis’s ambition. But like I said, Deena finally sees the truth, leaves Curtis and reunited with Effie so she can be important and make a difference.
DEH: For Effie Only-Do you think Effie ends up as sadly as her real life counterpart did or better after the story I the play ends?
Angela: Definitely better! I don’t believe Florence had much of a career after post The Supremes. Effie definitely redefines herself and has a whole new career.
DEH: For Lorell only-Do you kind of feel that she is the sweetheart of the original 3 Dreams. And that what happens between the 3 of them really tears her up?
Alexandria: I believe Lorrell is the youngest of the group and could be perceived as the sweetheart. But really she’s just young, naive, and easily excitable. What I love most about Lorrell’s track is that it is completely separate from the fame track of Effie or Deena, or even Curtis. To me, she is along for the ride to fame, and on the way falls in love and ends up with this great story to tell.
DEH: Is this a “dream role” and how do you like creative team?
Joell: This is definitely a dream show for me. I don’t know that I have a dream role in this show, but I am certainly thrilled and honored to be part of such a talented and kind cast. Our creative team is wonderful. Everyone behind that table carries such a passion for this show that is unmatched by anyone else. I am so grateful to be a part of this process.
Alexandria: I love our creative team! We have all worked so hard to put on the best show for the audience. I am convinced everyone who sees this show will be wowed.
Angela: It definitely is a dream role. I’ve been up for the role many times over the years and it finally was the right time and place to do it. I just love the creative team at Village. They have gone above and beyond to provide us with all the tools and direction to build amazing characters that will make for a great show! They are guiding us with great care for all of the elements of the show and also give us voice to follow our own instincts and choices. I truly appreciate that.
Lauren: Yes! Everyday I’m amazed and humbled that I have the opportunity to do this show in this role with these wonderful people. It’s been so fun, and challenging and I’ve already grown so much as an artist and a person. It’s truly a dream come true.
Besides the fabulous four Dreams, the cast includes John Devereaux (RENT 20th Anniversary National Tour) as Curtis, Nathaniel Tenebaum as Jimmy, Charles Simmons as C.C., Ty Willis as Marty, and Joell Weil as Michelle. Rounding out the ensemble are Angelica Barksdale, Philip Bolton, Eric Dobson, Davione Gordon, Jalá Harper, Erin Hyatt, Jelani Kee, Richard Peacock, Shatirah sha Rolle, Sarah Russell, Jimmy Shields, Jesse Smith, Chandler Thomas, Lydia Weir,Bethanie Willis, and Shelby Willis.
Steve Tomkins (Singin’ in the Rain, Billy Elliot) will be directing this powerhouse musical, with Choreography by Daniel Cruz (In the Heights), Music Direction by R.J. Tancioco (Pump Boys and Dinettes), and Timothy McCuen Piggee as Associate Director. Karen Ledger (My Heart is the Drum, Funny Girl) works with the costume shop to pull together one of the largest shows the theatre has ever done with over 230 individual costumes. David Sumner takes on the scenic design, working together with lighting designer Tom Sturge to create a sleek environment full of surprises. Brett Warwick (sound design), and Nick Heggestad (prop master) will complete the package to ensure audiences are transported back to the 1960s.
Dreamgirls opens May 11, 2017 and runs through July 2, 2017 in Issaquah, then heads North to Everett Performing Arts Center July 7-30, 2017. For ticket reservations, pricing and more go to www.villagetheatre.org