Ottawa Theatre Review: Orpheus Musical Theatre Presents: Dreamgirls

This weekend saw the opening for Orpheus Musical Theatre’s second show of the season: Dreamgirls. I haven’t seen the film or the stage production before, which I think is a good thing; I enjoy seeing live shows without prior knowledge of them that might influence my review!

The Venue:

Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe, if you’re not familiar with it, boasts two exceptional theatres that can accommodate events of multiple sizes. Orpheus performances are always in the larger theatre, found on the main floor of the building. It features an impressive, expansive lobby area with great bar service and plenty of space to mingle with other patrons before and after the show, or during intermission. The staff at Centrepointe are all fantastic and so friendly. And, unlike most other theatrical venues in town, the parking is free!

The Show:

Dreamgirls is about a trio of women from Chicago, who, inspired by their love of Motown music, are hoping to find fame through song. While their vocals, lead by Effie White (Patrice Xavier) demonstrate impressive talent, they come to find themselves singing backup for established singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Emmanuel Simon) after Early, with the help of the women’s manager, Curtis Taylor Jr. (Brian Muma), signs them to join him on his tour. The story of Dreamgirls, set in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, details the ups and downs of the “Dreamettes” as they maneuver the various challenges that show-business can present. 

Photo: Maria Vartanova

The show itself has a good story, but it felt a little longer than it needed to be; this is perhaps because this show lacked much of what I can come to expect from Orpheus. Having reviewed their shows for years, I’m very familiar with the quality of production that Orpheus presents; I always go into their shows with optimism and excitement. And despite knowing the incredible calibre that they always bring, I am wowed each and every time I see their newest show. I feel as though I leave almost every Orpheus show thinking, “this was their best yet!” They constantly raise and exceed their own bar.  Dreamgirls, however, did not meet my expectations for the quality that I have come to expect from Orpheus.

To start on a positive note, I was very impressed with the technical elements of the production. The quality of the music, sound, lighting, sets, costumes and props were incredible. These are areas that present challenges for many community theatre organizations, and yet they are areas in which Orpheus always excels.

My disappointment in this show stems from a few cast that just didn’t do their roles justice. Orpheus is known to bring together Ottawa’s best performers: whether they’re singers, dancers or actors, but it seems as though, once in a while, mistakes can be made. I typically keep my reviews positive and light; when something doesn’t seem quite up to par in a show, I simply don’t mention it, unless it directly impacts the quality of the show, and in turn, the audience’s enjoyment of it. In Dreamgirls, my enjoyment was significantly diminished by one of the leads. Many noticeable and impactful mistakes were made, and the acting was downright poor. My disappointment was not limited to this one individual, but others who weren’t exactly amazing were in much smaller roles, and therefore their performances didn’t have as great of an impact on the overall quality of the show.

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Perhaps because of this one individual, I feel as though the cohesion of the cast wasn’t as strong as it normally is with Orpheus shows. Often when I leave the theatre, I find myself thinking that the cast seems like a family, they work together so well. This time, I didn’t feel that at all. Their interactions felt forced at times, and it felt as though there was a genuine disconnect between cast members. It didn’t feel at all as though the cast were working as a team, but rather as individual performers.  

If you are familiar with my reviews, you’ll know that I like to highlight the individuals who really stood out to me in a positive way. As mentioned above, I felt as though in general Dreamgirls lacked the usual performance quality and actor cohesion that we have all come to know and love in Orpheus shows. However, there were still multiple cast members that were so exceptional, and went so far above and beyond, that they essentially carried the performance, and individually, made it absolutely worth seeing. Without the following standout performances, I don’t think I would recommend this show.

Standout Performances:

As mentioned, there were some incredibly talented individuals in this show, and I’ve selected a few to highlight who really made it enjoyable.

My first standout is the incredibly talented singer Patrice Xavier, who portrayed Effie White. Her voice is absolutely outstanding: it noticeably amazed the audience on multiple occasions throughout the show. I was floored by her rendition of, ‘I’m not going’ at the end of the first act. Then almost immediately after the intermission, she picked it up again in the second scene of act two with, ‘I am Changing,’ where once again, she was amazing. What a truly impressive singer!

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Next up is the talented Emmanuel Simon, who portrayed Jimmy Early. Simon is no rookie to my standout performances: I noted his exceptional singing ability when I saw him in Orpheus’ Memphis last season. But Simon is not only an incredible singer: his portrayal of Early was perfect! Everything about the way that he approached this role, from his mannerisms to facial expressions, made it believable. He was entertaining and without a doubt, he was the glue that held the show together. He really helped the audience to overlook some of the shortcomings. Thank you, Emmanuel, for another amazing performance!

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Third, I’d like to move away from the lead roles and onto the ensemble. I found that Jean-Loup Lherisson Pimentel really stood out for me. He brought an extra bit of energy, charisma, and enthusiasm to every scene that he was in, regardless of what he was doing. I found that he caught my eye in many scenes and he definitely deserves a shoutout! Hopefully I’ll see him again in a bigger role in the future.

Next, a shoutout to Axandre Lemours. Also no stranger to my past reviews, Lemours was highlighted as a Standout Performer last year for his role in Orpheus’ Memphis, despite not being in a lead role. In Dreamgirls, his role is more prevalent, which is very much deserved! I’ve seen in the past what he’s capable of, and while I feel that Dreamgirls didn’t give him the opportunity to demonstrate the full breadth of his talent (and the acrobatics that he showed in Memphis!) he portrayed his character very well, and brought a lot to this show. I truly hope to see him again in the future, in a show/role where he can let loose and really show off what he is capable of!

Finally, a quick note to mention my enjoyment of Kyle Thompson’s portrayal of Tiny Joe Dixon. He had two scenes in the first act that were hilarious, and offered much-needed comedic relief. I think that Thompson was perfect for this role; I only wish that he had a few more of those appearances in the show!

Photo: Maria Vartanova

No show could go on without endless hours of work behind the scenes. These (sometimes forgotten) individuals are what makes a performance run so seamlessly. Shoutout to Tiara Wallace for her outstanding makeup and hair design: the wigs were perfect for the era, and everything looked great!

Murray Doggett and Maggie Walters did a fantastic job on the set. It was amazingly functional! Orpheus often has very elaborate sets with many moving parts and versatile construction, but the set for Dreamgirls appeared to be much simpler. However, it worked perfectly and was completely appropriate for the show!

Costumes were also very well done. Susan Cole and Pauline Doggett really designed costumes to suit the era and the industry.

Finally, I need to mention the choreography, by Niamh Webber. Dreamgirls itself does not appear to be the type of musical that was designed to showcase extensive dance sequences, however, there was one scene in which the choreography blew me away! ‘Steppin’ to the Bad Side’ was incredible, and there was a low “whoa” sound that rippled through the audience at one point. Well done, Niamh!

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Orpheus continues to be an exceptional musical theatre company, presenting very high-quality and entertaining performances. Although Dreamgirls had its problems, overall, it was still entertaining, and I’m very happy that I went to see it. Tickets are available for future performances and you can get them through the Meridian Theatres box office in person or through their website. All the show dates and links to the information are available through my events calendar as well. Ticket prices start at $45 for adults; performances run until March 10th.

Next up for Orpheus is The Wizard of Oz, running from May 31st to June 9th. I am very excited to see that show, and I am assuming that we’ll see the very best of Ottawa theatre in that cast. It will be such a fun time, and certain to sell out!

Cheers.

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