Some musicals quickly fade into the dusty books of history, and some get numerous revivals, both on Broadway and in regional theaters, speaking to both old-timers who may have seen their original productions and new generations. The latter description certainly applies to Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s 1981 tuner Dreamgirls, which will play Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam from November 10 to December 30.
“I consider it a new classic,” says Donna Lynne Hilton, Goodspeed’s artistic director. “When you look at the text and hear the songs, you realize just how good this show is. There’s nothing not to love about it!”
For those unfamiliar with the musical (which later became a hit movie in 2006 starring Beyonce, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Hudson), it tells the story of a Supremes-like trio of R&B singers whose stratospheric rise to fame causes numerous personal and professional complications, including replacing the temperamental (and overweight) singer Effie White in order to appeal to more mainstream audiences.
The original Broadway production ran for nearly four years and won six Tony Awards. Among its many accomplishments, it made a superstar of Jennifer Holliday—the original Effie —whose performance of the Act I closer “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” earned minutes-long standing ovations every night, sold out for months, and won the actress a well-deserved Grammy Award in 1982.
“I always felt that the show would live on,” says Krieger, who composed the score. “It speaks in different ways in different times to different people. But at the end of the day, I think it’s still so popular because it’s good. I am glad that so many people can still experience it so many years after Tom and I first wrote it.”
Hilton agrees wholeheartedly. “While we only have 398 seats to fill for each performance, we still need to program something that will attract people of all generations,” she notes. “Thankfully, we are already hearing a lot of excitement from subscribers and ticket-buyers of all ages about this show. Some of our older patrons want something they can feel nostalgic about, and younger audiences are excited for the chance to finally see the show.”
While that may well be true, one thing Dreamgirls does not have is any kind of Christmas sequence. So why did Hilton choose to put the show on during the holiday season, instead of A Christmas Carol or a reprise of last year’s offering, Christmas in Connecticut?
“In a way, it’s a test to see if we have to do a holiday show every year, and we’ll see what we learn from doing this show,” says Hilton. “And, honestly, even though it’s not a so-called holiday show, it gives people something to do with friends and family during the winter, especially our audiences who live in Connecticut. We really believe we can maximize our attendance with this show.”
While Goodspeed is the production’s originator, the show is now a co-production with Princeton, New Jersey’s acclaimed McCarter Theater, where it will play in February. “These kinds of collaborations are so important to theaters like Goodspeed and the McCarter in this post-pandemic era. It’s so important to us to have these sorts of connections,” says Hilton.
Whether they’re in Connecticut or New Jersey, however, audiences should expect a different take on Dreamgirls than they might expect. “I don’t want to say much about our cast, but I will note our Effie is a bit of a discovery,” says Hilton. “And I am so excited about our director Lili-Anne Brown. This is her first time at Goodspeed, and she’s so well-respected in the theater community. She has brought us a new team of designers we’re so excited to work with. And most importantly, I think it makes a difference to have both a woman and an African American woman direct this show. That’s what I really wanted, and I would not have chosen anyone other than Lili-Anne.”
Goodspeed has already had great success this year with its productions of Gypsy, Summer Stock, and “The 12,” and Hilton sees “Dreamgirls” as the icing on the proverbial cake. “I believe we have curated a very strong season of wildly diverse shows for our audiences, and, for me, that’s the most important thing we can do.”