Live theater is still an exciting, thrilling experience
- Ibarra C. Mateo () - March 24, 2003 - 12:00am
Film review: Dreamgirls

Bobby Garcia’s version of the Broadway hit Dreamgirls is a veritable testimony that Metro Manila theater-goers should be thankful he opted to return to the country after studying and working in the US and Canada.

And owing to the perseverance of Bobby to mount Broadway shows here using local talents and resources, Dreamgirls is absolute proof that such shows can be done here brilliantly, minus the amenities afforded by world-class theaters. Not to mention the shoestring budget for theater productions in a setting like the Philippines.

Take for example the absence of a mechnical revolving stage in Greenbelt’s Onstage where Dreamgirls is showing. Bobby deftly resorted to employing two stage hands to laboriously manipulate a slightly elevated moving platform that is literally pivotal in the production. Bravo to those guys who did not take their bows!

Bobby’s Dreamgirls is an out-and-out demonstration that Broadway hits can be mounted locally, despite overwhelming barriers, and still completely shine. In fact, the absence of high-tech props enabled the audience to totally enjoy the talents of Bituin Escalante and other cast members.

is a musical focusing on the Dreams, a group of three female singers that became famous from 1960’s to the 1970’s. For those in their forties and fifties, Dreamgirls becomes more than a delight and even more enchanting because it features songs that bring back memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s, from the Rhythm and Blues to disco sounds. It is widely touted that Dreamgirls is a veiled story of the famous group Supremes. But this is vehemently denied by the group’s lawyers. However, Bobby as Diana Ross (or her likeness) appears before the audience in the persona of Anna sporting an obvious copy of a Ross’ hairstyle.

is a narrative of three high school friends and their singing group called Dreamettes. Dreamgirls is about dreams of hitting it big in show business and all things attendant to this aim.

The musical starts with the group joining an amateur contest at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. The story also ends in New York.

In Bobby’s Dreamgirls, the female singers are the scintillating Bituin (playing Effie Melody White), Anna Fegi (Deena Jones), and Tex Ordoñez (Lorell Robinson). His Immensity Calvin Millado convincingly essays C.C. White, brother of Effie and music writer to the group.

They lose in the Apollo Theater competition, but interestingly get connected with their soon-to-be new manager, Raul Montesa (Curtis Taylor Jr.) whose initial move to launch the group into stardom is to have them back up a singing legend. Raul’s sustained powerful and silky voice and good acting are expected. But he could have at least tried to sound Black.

To cut the long story short, Curtis is instrumental in putting the group into the radar screen of the entertainment industry. But Effie, played by the glorious Bituin, has to be replaced by Deena (Anna) as lead singer to make the group palatable to the non-ethnic audience (read: the White segment of the population). The musical ’s pace picks up from this segment.

Along the way, Curtis falls for Deena. His love destroys Effie who is madly in love with him. Nursing a proverbial broken heart, Effie becomes uncontrollable and makes things impossible for the group. She is eventually kicked out. Her condition spirals down to a nervous breakdown. Bituin is simply more than outstanding in this final segment of the first act featuring her nervous breakdown. The way Bituin’s voice captures Effie’s pains and passions and sorrows in this part of the musical is magical. She glues the audience to their seats as she twists her body, kneels in front of Curtis, clings on his shirt while belting out. As soon as she sings the last note of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, the audience erupts into a deafening applause.

The second acts opens with a song number featuring the Dreamettes as international stars, with Deena now a celebrity. Lana Jalosjos joins Anna and Tex and completes the group. The opening and last numbers of the second act are highlighted by impressive lighting and high-spirited choreography, thanks to good-looking choreographer Andy Alviz. Watching the numbers in the second act remind those who have seen the movie Chicago of several sequences in the film. Costume designer Rajo Laurel, however, could have done much better in giving the audience a glimpse of the mood of the era through his creations. Rare is the opportunity for a costume designer to truly show his talent in varied ways such as dressing up four women in a series of elaborate musical numbers as called for in the Dreamgirls. Rajo somehow fails us genuinely.

musical director Gerard Salonga’s rendition of the original music composed by Henry Krieger, and the Filipino orchestra tell us again and again that live theater is still an extremely exciting and thrilling experience in this age of DVDs and VCDs. Tom Eyen wrote the book and lyrics.

The entire cast is impressive, except that there are noticeable moments when Bituin overpowers Anna. Lana Jalosjos should be singled out too. Calvin is his usual self, with a voice and presence hard to ignore even when there are many actors and actresses fighting for the audience’s attention. Jett Pangan as James Thunder Early is terrific and perfect for the part of an R&B legend. He is wickedly naughty, too.

Bobby’s direction complemented by Gerry Fernandez’s lighting design makes the production an incredible experience from the opening until the ending. Add to this Gerard’s rendition of the original score. You’ll also marvel at how the voices of the cast sparkle as they journey from soulful and emotional sounds to painful and hollow ones.

The marvelous Dreamgirls is worth the price of admission. Its astonishing music would not leave your ears even when you’re out of the theater. And you will forever recall the never-ending series of revolving platforms showing scenes from elegant nightclubs to theaters to ordinary recording studios across the US.

is simply a must for those who would like to know how gorgeous music was before the arrival of the compact disc. It runs until March 28 and 29 and April 4 and 5. (Tickets are priced at P600, P1,100, and P1,500. For details, call Ticketworld at 891-5610 for details.)

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