North Carolina Theatre
Through Jan. 20
North Carolina Theatre opens its 25th season with the silvery sounds of smooth R&B in the Broadway hit-turned-movie blockbuster Dreamgirls. And happily, for fans of the movie and the soundtrack, Sunday afternoon's performance left many audience members dazzled by the excellent chorus of voices that greeted them from the stage.
A great part of this performance's appeal lies in its casting. In her first stage role, Quiana Parler, a former American Idol contestant and backup singer to Raleigh's Clay Aiken, plays Effie White, the somewhat temperamental, powerhouse lead vocalist of the Dreams, a Supremes-like trio. Parler packs a whopping punch: Her rich, thunderous vocals are both smooth and strong, and ultimately soul-stirring. (There must be something about the song "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," for Effie was played on the big screen by another American Idol contestant, Jennifer Hudson.)
In truth, it's the songs and music that truly make the show a success, although the visual stimuli (shimmery sequined gowns, lush fur wraps and silky smooth wigs) come in at a close second. Still, in many ways, this production of the Broadway musical feels emptier than its cinematic counterpart. A large part of the Dreams story resides not only in the movement of music during the 1960s, but in the change in race relations during the movement for civil rights. While the film weaves this secondary narrative in and out of the songs and dialogue with ease, it's hard, if not impossible, to locate the impact of this important subtext on stage, or even mark the passage of time.
Nonetheless, with the smooth crooning of the Dreams and the exaggerated jazz-funk of James "Thunder" Early (a dynamic performance by Kingsley Leggs), this musical has enough charm to hold its own on stage. Just don't look for too much depth behind the stage lights and sparkly curtains. —Kathy Justice
All in the Timing
Ghost & Spice
At Common Ground Theatre
Through Jan. 26
"Sure Thing," the first of six one-act plays that make up David Ives' All in the Timing, depicts a man trying to pick up a girl in a coffee shop who keeps flubbing his opportunities, despite an endless supply of second chances. Cued by a bell, Bill and Betty (Jeff Alguire and Tracey Coppedge) repeatedly return to points in their tentative introduction to explore different routes that could have been taken. "You have to hit these things at the right moment," Bill says. "It's all in the timing."
A thought-provoking hour and a half of absurdity, All in the Timing hews to Ives' fascination with time and opportunity. In the second playlet, "Words, Words, Words," Ives takes audiences behind the scenes of literary creation with three monkeys named Swift, Kafka and Milton (played by talented monkey impersonators Alguire, Lormarev Jones and Rus Hames, respectively) who are testing the popular claim that an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters will produce Shakespeare. Later, the mind-bendingly agile "The Universal Language" depicts a scarred stutterer who realizes happiness when she learns a language—which she calls "the opposite of loneliness"—that she can speak fluently, an unexpectedly coherent mix of English and gibberish in which "poetry" is pronounced "poultry" and "English" is "John Cleese." The only sustained lag in Ghost & Spice's tight production occurs during this sketch, when Alguire and Jones' seamless banter of gibberish turns to awkward, not entirely convincing romantic chemistry.
Among the four actors filling a total of 17 roles, Alguire and Hames' performances stood out due to their relaxed, dedicated deliveries. Jones and Coppedge also provide strong support, particularly during "Phillip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," a merciless parody not only of Glass' work but of certain notions of movement theater. Throughout, we're treated to pearl after pearl of Ives' wisdom, such as "Everybody has to be somewhere" and "All of the peepholes in the looniverse cargo a slong in da hearf." With this enjoyable production, Ghost & Spice does ample justice to Ives' generous, optimistic imagination. —Megan Stein