By L. N. Harrison // Contributing Writer
On the opening night of any show, no matter the venue or scale, allowances must be made for nervous anticipation and for the sheer pressure of it being opening night.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much that can be completely excused, even for a first show. In the case of the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts’ production of Dreamgirls – a musical about a female trio trying to make a name for itself in the music industry – the limit was reached and perhaps even exceeded.
Recurring problems with mics and the volume of the music made understanding some sections of dialogue difficult. There were a few other technical issues: The curtains failed to close entirely on a couple occasions and there were lighting problems, particularly with the spotlight, which at times seemed disinclined to quite follow the performer it was meant to illuminate.
Of the actual performance, the occasional out-of-sync choreography and sometimes painfully pitchy or entirely missed notes dimmed what still could have been a solid production.
But regardless of technical and other difficulties, the show wasn’t without its brighter points.
Stunning costumes contrasted and drew attention from the simple set. Of the musical numbers, “Steppin’ to the Bad Side,” “I Want You Baby,” “Drivin’ Down the Strip,” “I Am Changing,” “One Night Only” and “Listen” were all especially well-sung foot-tappers that won enthusiastic applause from the full auditorium and even brought a few people to their feet.
If the other numbers had been performed with as high quality and as much attention to detail as these, the entire show would have been extremely enjoyable.
The acting may very well have been Dreamgirls’ saving grace as it reeled back in those who may have been taken out of the experience by missed notes or technical complications. Standout performances belong to Gerold Oliver who portrayed the James Brown-esque James “Thunder” Early, Robbyn “Vyrgo” Daniel as Effie Melody White and Bentley Caldwell as Curtis Taylor, Jr.
Despite its better moments and talented and charismatic cast, the seesawing, hot-and-cold, hit-and-miss nature of the production made for a not entirely wasted night, but certainly not what it could have been.
In the end, when the set is so spartan and props are so few, strong execution of dialogue, tight choreography, and accuracy with the musical numbers are critical, and it’s disappointing to say that these Dreamgirls fell short.